AMES — Joel Lanning remembers being nervous in a game precisely once.
That would be before his first start as quarterback in last season’s shutout win over Texas.
“I don’t really get nervous anymore,” the strong-armed junior play caller said with a shrug.
The game of football is slowing down for Lanning, making any hint of anxiety a vestige of a clipboard-bearing past. Unless, perhaps, he’s thrust into his fledgling role of in-demand public speaker.
Yes, Lanning, who entered and will leave spring practice as “The Guy” behind center for Matt Campbell’s Cyclones, is stepping up his game in terms of visits to hospitals and reading books to elementary school children.
It’s a natural progression. Being a leader demands it. Having an impact — on and off the field — is expected from “the guy” and Lanning readily accepts the responsibility that accompanies his role change.
“It is kind of crazy to think that everybody is kind of looking up to you,” said Lanning, who carries himself with a blend of confidence and humility. “It’s just weird that people request to see you, because I don’t think of myself as better than anyone else — just a normal person. But I play football so everyone wants to see me. It’s different, but I enjoy it.”
Of course, a lot’s being asked of the 6-2, 232-pound dual-threat quarterback on the field, as well.
That’s also a natural progression. Lanning, along with every other ISU player, is “learning a new language,” as first-year passing game coordinator Jim Hofher puts it.
And Lanning’s become something of a polyglot. As a redshirt freshman, he learned Courtney Messingham’s playbook. The following season, he transitioned to Mark Mangino’s offense. Now he’s picking up fresh concepts from Hofher and offensive coordinator Tom Manning.
“A guy like him goes from quarterback 101 to quarterback 401 faster than a young player does if that makes any sense,” Hofher said.
In other words, adaptation comes with the territory, particularly for Lanning, who used to struggle at times with previous playbooks.
“Honestly it hasn’t been that hard because I’ve been through it before and I know what to expect,” said Lanning, who threw for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions last season. “I’d say this transition has been a lot easier than what it was when I was a freshman and coach Mangino and those guys came in. I didn’t know how handle it then. Now I know how to handle it.”
Improving accuracy has been job number one since day one for Lanning, whose arm is often describe as “a cannon.”
In last season’s finale, he completed just 50 percent of his throws and tossed two picks in a blowout loss at West Virginia. Lanning connected on 55.4 percent of his passes overall.
That’s not good enough, so Lanning went to work, viewing the playbook as a resource, not a potential stumbling block. He learned that better footwork could and should cause a spike in his accuracy rate. He sits down with Campbell in his office almost daily, conversing about football and life and digesting game tape — both the good and the bad aspects caught on camera.
“Joel can throw it, Joel can run it,” Campbell said. “Joel can do a little bit of everything and he gives you some of the intangibles that as a quarterback you really appreciate.”
Toughness. Calmness. A stoic yet eager and accountable approach.
Lanning combines all of those elements and more.
“He’s a tremendous competitor,” Hofher said. “He seems to be, although we will limit a quarterback during the spring, but I think he’s probably a very physically tough man. He’s built to be physically tough. His body type, he’s got the body type of a catcher more than he does of a pitcher.”
Lanning was one — and first team All-State at that. He also wrestled in the state tournament. So Lanning’s used to being the center of attention, just not at this level.
“You definitely have to carry yourself in a different way,” he said. “You can’t do things like I would have done as a freshman because no one knew who I was.”
Lanning also pledges to be a less reckless runner. His mobility is what makes his skill set special, but his days of actively seeking out defenders to dump may be over.
“I’ve had a good talk with coach Hof about that,” Lanning said.
“‘Don’t be stupid,’” Lanning said. “I’ll be getting down a lot more.”
All part of the natural progression. Sometime next week Lanning plans to read to school kids in his hometown of Ankeny. More public appearances will follow — all while working smarter than ever on the game that’s placed him in the spotlight yet again.
“I feel a lot more comfortable because now I feel I know what to expect,” Lanning said. “I’ve played on Saturdays. I know what it’s like out there. Now I can just go in there and focus on what they want me to do and just go execute it.”