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Football

FITZY: Iowa boy Joel Lanning making waves, changing culture

One month ago, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield led the Sooners to a 31-16 victory over the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes in the Horseshoe. While the upset itself was notable in its own right, what spurred the most post-game headlines was what Mayfield did AFTER the game was over.

The Heisman candidate grabbed an OU flag, jogged to the 50 yard line, and dramatically stuck it straight into the heart of the giant “O” at midfield.

It was bold – cocky, even. But the senior quarterback had just come off torching the Buckeyes for 386 yards on 27/35 passing to go along with three TDs and no picks. Staking his claim was something he had earned the right to do.

…Just like it was Iowa State’s right to do the same after knocking off the No. 3 Sooners 38-31 in Norman earlier this afternoon.

Oct 7, 2017; Norman, OK, USA; The Iowa State Cyclones celebrate after defeating the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It was brief. ISU’s Evrett Edwards only had the flag in the ground for about 10 seconds before tight ends coach Alex Golesh came and yanked it out. You can see Golesh and head coach Matt Campbell pleading against it in the picture that’s made the rounds on Twitter, but plenty of people around the nation had no qualms when they saw Edwards do the deed. It was sweet justice for Mayfield’s schadenfreude in Columbus.

The other notable thing about the flag the Cyclones planted is it wasn’t an Iowa State flag… It was the state flag of Iowa. Was there a specific reason for that, or was it just the most convenient flag for Edwards to grab after the game? We may never know.

However, I found the flag choice to quite poetic. In what was arguably the biggest win in school history (certainly the biggest road win), Iowa boy Joel Lanning cemented himself as one of the best pure football players in the nation. 

Lanning, an Ankeny native, was coming off a 20 tackle performance against the Texas Longhorns – one of the biggest name-brand teams in college football. He isn’t going to be in the Heisman conversation at the end of the year. He probably won’t even be named a finalist for the Butkus award, given to the nation’s best linebacker. But Saturday’s outing against the Sooners allowed Lanning to showcase his full range of talents on the field. He finished with eight tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery, 2-3 passing for 25 yards, and nine carries for 35 yards.

These days, in Division I football, that stat line is unheard of. Two-way guys are few and far between, because it takes an incredible work ethic and amount of selflessness to do it well.

This is an athlete who could have easily transferred during the offseason after he lost the starting quarterback job to Jacob Park. Instead, he responded to Coach Campbell’s idea to move him to Mike linebacker with a “hell yes” attitude and hasn’t looked back since. He’s represented the University and the state of Iowa as well as anyone could have hoped for. He’s done everything he could to help the Cyclones raise their standard.

In sports, there are plenty of athletes who subscribe to a “me first” attitude. Joel Lanning is the exact opposite of that. And while he was recruited to Iowa State by the previous coaching regime, his maturity and disciplined approach embody the type of culture that Campbell is trying to build in Ames.

The locker room speech after today’s game made me more confident than ever that ISU has the right man in charge of its football program. Campbell explained that everyone will remember this game for a long time, but also said that he refused to allow today’s game to be the end of this team’s story. It’s all about building consistency.

With leaders like Joel Lanning, stalwarts like Allen Lazard, emerging stars like David Montgomery, and focused underdogs like Kyle Kempt, the rest of the season presents an opportunity for Iowa State to take the next step as a program. Today’s game was the toughest one on the entire schedule, so every single game remaining this season should be winnable.

Hopefully, today wasn’t the peak. Hopefully, it was only the beginning.