MEMPHIS – Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock has been coaching football for more than 30 years. He’s never seen anything like what Joel Lanning did this year.
Simply put, he’s the heart and soul of Iowa State football and its success leading up to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
“When it all came out we were going to switch him to Mike (middle) linebacker and we’re going to switch him from quarterback – I’m not sure I had a handle on it,” Heacock said. “But what I watched happen was something I’ve never seen in this game and I’m not sure I’ll be around long enough to see it again.”
Lanning led the team with 110 tackles and five sacks. He was second on the team in tackles for a loss with 10. He also recorded an interception and a fumble recovery.
But he didn’t stop there. He played on the offensive side of the ball, too. He was 5 of 5 on third down conversions and 4 of 4 on fourth down. He also threw for a touchdown and ran for a touchdown.
He led Iowa State to a 7-5 record and a 5-4 conference record with wins over to top-5 opponents in Oklahoma and TCU.
“He’s really saved our rear end in a lot of situations – a lot of really critical situations,” Offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “From and X's and O's standpoint, Joel’s done a lot. He’s been very successful converting third and fourth downs.
“The plays that he comes in for have typically been in very critical situations, and he’s given us an advantage at times running the football and certainly throwing the football as well. He’s critical to our success.”
Many of those critical situations, especially the third and fourth downs, come down to effort. Lanning doesn’t get stopped at first contact, he keeps his legs churning and gets the first down however he can.
That’s why quarterback Kyle Kempt is completely fine with Lanning coming in and stealing his position for a snap or two.
“The kid makes plays so I’m comfortable,” Kempt said. “Our coaches put all of us in a great position to succeed. When he comes in, I know the ball’s going to be taken care of one way or another and he’s going to get that situation taken care of too.”
As a two-time captain, Lanning understands that guys look up to him, and that’s why he goes all-out on every play.
“You have to be the guy in the locker room to keep guys motivated and keep guys ready to play all the time,” Lanning said. “I enjoy it, I don’t really feel like the heart and soul of this team. From my standpoint, I think I’m just out there playing ball.”
On paper, it can be quantified what Lanning means to means to both the offense and defense, but what he means to the Iowa State football program is a different story.
“He’s meant so much to the team,” Manning said. “I think he’s had an effect on everybody in our organization. I think he’s had an effect on not only the players, but I think he’s been such a refreshing, inspiring kid to our coaching staff, to our young coaches and to all of us. I think it’s a cliché in football – how important the team is – but here’s a guy that had a million opportunities to do different things and Iowa State is really important to him – it’s the most important thing to him.”
Lanning was rewarded, being named a first-team All-American by the FWAA, among many other recognitions.
“He’s a kid of great character and Joel’s deserved everything that has come his way from an accolade stand point, but Joel doesn’t care and that’s who he is,” Manning said. “He just doesn’t care. He cares about Iowa State football.”
Lanning played 934 snaps on offense, defense and special teams this season.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell preaches attitude and effort to his team. Lanning epitomizes that.
“Honestly, I don’t even know [where the effort and drive] comes from,” Lanning said. “Just wanting to do everything I can for my team and not try to let people down and play as hard as I can every single snap. That’s all it is, is just effort. It’s one of the things you can control in life is your attitude and effort. Why go out there and do half when you can do everything you can and give great effort. We’re an attitude and effort based program.”
And it starts and ends with Lanning.