Nov 19, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Joel Lanning (7) scores a touchdown against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Red Raiders 66-10. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Consider him a Joel of all trades.
Quarterback? Running back? Linebacker?
It may be wise to check the box that naturally follows — all of the above — for uber-athletic Iowa State senior Joel Lanning as the 2017 football season looms.
“The one thing I’ll tell you about Joel is he’s one of the best athletes we have on our football team,” said Cyclones coach Matt Campbell, whose team embarked in its first of 15 spring practices Tuesday at the Bergstrom Football Complex. “The reality for him is he can do so many things for us and I think you’re going to see, Joel’s probably going to get more reps than he’s ever had in his life here, within the next year, to be honest with you. So I think you’ll see us be really creative with Joel as we continue to move on and just kind of continuing to develop his skill set. Sometimes when you play quarterback, you’re used to just playing quarterback, but Joel’s so much more than that athletically.”
In high school at Ankeny, Lanning starred in baseball and wrestling as well as football.
At Iowa State, the 6-2, 225-pounder’s proven to be a capable quarterback, boasting 19 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions in his career, but his running ability sprang to the forefront once Jacob Park wrested the starting job from him midway through last season.
Now the multi-talented Lanning’s poised to deliver a more broad-ranging boost to the Cyclones — potentially on both sides of the ball.
“You look at the National Football League and what the linebackers look like, they look like Joel,” Campbell said. “I think Joel’s one of those guys that he wants to play and he should be playing. His one of our best athletes on our team and if he can help us in different areas that can strengthen our football program, we’re really going to be diligent in finding ways he can do that for us. The linebacker piece of it is something he played a little bit early in his career in high school. Obviously hasn’t played in a while, but I think his physicality and his ability to run sideline to sideline may be as good as anybody we’ve got on our team, so we’re certainly going to explore all options.”
Campbell said Lanning accepted his new duties without reservations. He’s committed to winning — and playing his part in making that happen.
“‘Coach, I just want to play,’” Campbell recalled Lanning saying after last season. “‘I want to be on the field,’ and believe me, I understand that. Last year was so hard because he just played quarterback. … You’re still going to see him play a bunch of quarterback. You’re still going to see him line up on the offensive side and I said, ‘Have you ever thought about playing defense and has that ever been something that you had an interest in?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ I said, ‘Well you may be one of our best 11 players — and there’s a lot of guys in the country right now that are playing both ways and doing some really good things with it. I think you’ve got that kind of ability. Would you be interested?’ He said, ‘Yes.’
CAMPOS CAMPING WELL
Campbell said offensive lineman Jake Campos has been impressive throughout the offseason while rehabilitating after last season’s leg surgery.
Campos had a 23-game start streak interrupted by last season’s health woes, but is looking good this spring.
“Man, for Jake Campos to have surgery to get to where he’s at right now and then didn’t miss really a rep all winter long, which was really impressive to me, and then to come out and practice the whole day today — he looks really close, I think physically, getting himself close to 100 percent,” Campbell said. “Mentally and the length of going through a practice like this, you’ve got to remember, he missed spring ball year ago and then missed the season. I think he’s getting himself back.”
COMPETITION UP FRONT
While Campbell and his staff await the additions of graduate transfers Khaliel Rodgers (USC) and David Dawson (Michigan), holdovers on the O-line continue to improve.
“Those guys are bonus,” Campbell said of Rodgers and Dawson. “The great thing for us is, there’s a lot of competition amongst that group and I said this when we got those two grad transfers, all those guys do is they bring competition to the program and I think you see guys like (Bryce) Meeker and (Robby) Garcia and (Julian) Good-Jones and you just go across the board — Sean Foster, all these guys need reps and they need the opportunity to continue to grow. And the one nice thing for those guys is they got a whole year under their belt of our system and that system hasn’t changed.”
Campbell then offered more info on Good-Jones, a guard, who ripped at center during parts of Tuesday’s open practice.
“Again, there’s a lot expected from Julian in a lot of ways so when you have high expectations — there’s been a lot put on his plate, but again, it’s a little bit like Joel. It’s a credit to what his athletic ability is; also his football ability to be able to line up in multiple positions and play. He’s a great asset for us and a guy that can do a lot of things.”
“BIG” D-LINE LOOKS THE PART
Campbell was asked about his new look defensive line featuring hulking JUCO DT Ray Lima, maturing sophomore JaQuan Bailey and others. His thoughts?
“What goes through my mind is we actually look like a Division I defensive line,” Campbell said. “So that part’s really good, but the key there is we look like it. Now we’ve got to understand how to play like it. I think those guys are so young, and even guys that are coming in from junior college football, it’s still (that) growth has to happen and occur. Now that kind of goes on us as coaches: Development. How much can we develop those guys.”
Campbell also said recent JUCO transfer arrival Matt Leo will be eased into the spring practice routine slowly.
“We’re just going to be smart,” Campbell said. “Here you get a guy that just came on campus a week ago. I think I’d rather be safe than sorry. He’l go through individual at least for the first week or so to where we can get him where we feel comfortable to take all the reps in practice. I don’t want to have an injury at this point and awe waste Matt’s ability to develop here over the next 15 practices, so we’ll be really smart. Matt’s obviously in really good shape. He looks like his in good shape. He trained really hard with where he was until we were able to get him here, but him training hard individually is a little different than what we’ve been doing as a football team, preparing ourselves to get ready for spring practice and have a practice like today.
When Mike Warren, a USA Today freshman All-American two seasons ago, lost the starting tailback job to David Montgomery last season, many mused that he may transfer. He didn’t — and he been one of the top performers in the weight room during the offseason.
“Here’s what you need to know about Mike Warren,” Campbell said. “Probably 95 percent of the kids that are in his position leave. They transfer. They go somewhere else. Mike and I had a conversation before he left for Christmas break and then when he came back and Mike’s conversation was never that. I twas about the team. The one thing I’ve always appreciated about Mike is Mike is a great teammate. This football team is really important to Mike. And it happens to all of us — you go through peaks and valleys, especially when you’re young and you’re early in your career, so I think you’re just going to continue to see the best of Mike Warren as this continues to go.”
Campbell said safety Mike Johnson remains indefinitely suspended. Johnson was arrested last week for domestic assault. … Campbell said it’s possible that tailback Kene Nwangwu could return this season. He also could be redshirted. Nwangwu suffered an Achilles injury earlier this month. “This is something that you can come back from,” Campbell said. “We had a safety, a kid that’s still playing (professionally) at Toledo that had the same injury at the same time and he came back and was ready to play every game a year when we were at Toledo. Really a kind of seamless transition back. It’s really too hard to tell, but the nice thing that we do have for Kene is we do have that redshirt in the back, where I think if you know me, I’m never going to put somebody out there that can hurt himself and we’re not going to put him out there too early.