AMES — In the course of a few hours Monday morning, Joel Lanning’s football life dramatically changed.
First, quarterbacks coach Todd Sturdy informed him he’d make his first career start as ISU’s quarterback in Saturdays 6 p.m. homecoming clash with Texas (FS1). Then, Lanning learned Sturdy had also become his third offensive coordinator in three years on campus after head coach Paul Rhoads and previous coordinator Mark Mangino could not “get on the same page.”
Overwhelming? Not for Lanning, who rolled with the wanted and unexpected changes with a confident shrug.
“Surreal is a word you could say,” a calm and collected Lanning said early Monday afternoon as the dust settled.
The promising sophomore’s long been preparing for the first part of the aforementioned equation — both mentally and physically. Now it’s here and a different word summed up that realization.
“It’s awesome,” said Lanning, who hopes to help guide ISU (2-5, 1-3) to its second win in 13 tries against the tradition-rich, but inconsistent Longhorns (3-4, 2-2).
The last two meetings with Texas have ended in losses by a combined four points. In 2013, officials negated a Jeremiah George fumble recovery at the goal line and the Longhorns won, 31-30.
"That was a big game on Thursday night," Lanning recalled. "We’ve been playing them good the last few years.”
He watched that game while redshirting. Now it’s his turn to call the shots for the offense.
“This is what I’ve wanted since I’ve been here is to get a chance,” said Lanning, who is 19-for-29 passing for 264 yards and four touchdowns as a backup this season. “Now I’ve got to go out there and prove that I can play; do it again and be successful.”
Lanning’s provided ample evidence of his competitiveness since his freshman year at Ankeny High School. At the midway point of the 2009 season, he became the Hawks’ starting quarterback. By his senior season, Lanning was setting records, leading Ankeny to a sterling 14-0 mark and a state title — the last the town celebrated before splitting into two high schools.
“The young man could do everything,” said former Ankeny coach and current Ankeny Centennial co-coach Jerry Pezzetti, whose voluminous list of former players includes Rhoads. “He’s a winner. He’s got the right frame of mind. He wants to do well and he leads in his toughness.”
Consider the 2012 Class 4-A title game. Ankeny trailed Cedar Rapids Xavier 17-15 with 4:16 remaining. Lanning zipped a 34-yard pass downfield, then plowed into the end zone from five yards out to secure the championship. The 6-2, 232-pounder (then about 210 pounds) rushed for 164 yards that night. Tough yards. Winning yards.
“We had five playoff games when we won the state championships in 2012,” Pezzetti said. “Three of the five games he ran the ball one or two times. In the two games that were close, he ran the ball (about) 25 times each game. So he’s the type of young man that maybe when you watch a practice or a scrimmage where the quarterback is not being tackled, he may not impress you that much. But when it comes to getting that extra yard and that toughness part of controlling the football, Joel’s very good and, of course, he’s got a very strong arm.”
Now he’s ready to showcase that and his stout, constantly churning legs in the Big 12.
“Honestly, it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Lanning said early this week. “I’m just, like, thinking about it and my stomach’s kind of eating at me a little bit; not really getting hungry, just thinking about Saturday and being a little nervous, but there’s no reason to be at all. It’s just like another week preparing myself like I have in the past.”
Texas comes in hot, owning a two-game win streak that includes a 24-17 triumph over arch-rival Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout.
Lanning enters on a roll, too, after a 12 of 17 passing performance adorned by three touchdowns in a 45-27 loss at Baylor. He’s thrown four touchdown passes and no interceptions this season. He replaced one of ISU’s all-time leading quarterbacks, Sam Richardson, because of his recent prowess — but bumps in the road are likely and tough or not, they can come from every angle.
“We all know how this game is played and we know injuries are a heavy part of it,” said Rhoads, whose team is a 5.5-point underdog to the Longhorns. “Sam could be in the third play, the third series of the game and lead us to victory. And if that happened we’d be ready to roll with Sam. But right now, coming out of that game with Joel’s performance and the energy of our team, we think Joel gives us the best opportunity.”
The term “cannon” has been, perhaps, overused to describe Lanning’s powerful arm. But people keep using it …
“He has a cannon,” said star running back Mike Warren, who vowed to take his offensive linemen out to dinner when he becomes the first Cyclone back since Alexander Robinson in 2009 to top the 1,000-yard plateau. “He can whip it down the field and he can run a little bit. That’s pretty dynamic.”
Pretty raw, as well.
Lanning’s attempted exactly two passes at Jack Trice Stadium. One was almost a backwards pass. One found the hands of receiver Allen Lazard, who turned it into a 74-yard touchdown. So call Lanning’s emergence an exercise in on-the-job training. Just like freshman year at Ankeny — but at a much higher level.
“He’ll take any challenge,” Pezzetti said. “I know during the offseason I was talking to him and I said, ‘You know, I thought you would get in that Kansas game when Kansas was a ahead a little bit a year ago,’ and he said, ‘I wasn’t disappointed. I want to play when it counts.’ That’s the kind of kid he is. He wants to make a difference."