Joel Lanning bringing back ironman football for Iowa State

NORMAN, Okla. -- Joel Lanning entered the visitor’s interview room in the bowels of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium harkening back to a player from another era. Grass stains covered the shoulders of his white jersey. The tape around his wrists, in tatters.

Only the leather helmet seemed to be missing.

Unleashing a modern version of ironman football, Lanning delivered one of the most memorable performances of the season over the weekend, manning both sides of the ball in Iowa State's stunning 38-31 victory over the then third-ranked Sooners.

All told, Lanning played 78 snaps, including 57 on defense, 13 on offense and eight on special teams. He finished with 25 yards passing, 35 yards rushing, eight tackles, a sack and a critical fumble recovery, the latter stifling an Oklahoma scoring opportunity while keying Iowa State’s second-half comeback.

“I do mean this, I think he’s one of the absolute best stories in college football, and hopefully people start to find out after what happened,” said Cyclones coach Matt Campbell, who noted that he hoped his two sons grow up to play the game like Lanning. “There are a lot of good players in college football, but I don’t know if there’s someone that does more for their team.

“I think he’s absolutely incredible.”

Lanning was nothing less for the Cyclones, who defeated Oklahoma for just the sixth time in 82 meetings and for the first time in Norman since 1990.

As Iowa State fell behind 14-0 early in what seemed to be shaping up as another Sooners route, Lanning began to make his presence felt. In his first appearance at quarterback, he helped drive the Cyclones down for a field goal, highlighted by a nine-yard carry on fourth down in Oklahoma territory.

Later in the second quarter, after tossing a third-down screen to running back David Montgomery, Lanning hurled a key block that allowed Montgomery to reverse field and dash away 24 yards, setting up Iowa State’s first touchdown.

“I hadn’t thrown it in a while,” Lanning said. “I just kind of was asked to run the ball down the field and get the ball to the playmakers. … That’s what I did.”

Yet, as he sparked the offense, Lanning also produced one of the biggest plays of the game on defense.

The Sooners were about to go up by two touchdowns again in the second half when Baker Mayfield and Trey Sermon fumbled a handoff at the Iowa State 5-yard line. Lanning instantly located the ball and pounced on it before Sermon could.

The Cyclones responded by driving 94 yards to tie the score with a touchdown and two-point conversion late in the third quarter. That proved to be a turning point, as Iowa State controlled the game the rest of the way.

“Just did my part,” said Lanning, overwhelmingly underselling his contribution to the upset.

Going into last season, the run-first Lanning opened as the Cyclones' starting quarterback on the heels of a strong finish the year before. But as Campbell sought to implement more of a passing threat in his first season in Ames, Jacob Park eventually overtook Lanning for the starting job.

Lanning, however, didn’t want to leave Iowa State. And Campbell wanted to find a way to keep him on the field.

“When you’re the starting quarterback and you lose your job, 90 percent of those guys transfer somewhere else,” Campbell said. “He’s a pretty special kid. He’s Iowa State through and through.”

During the offseason, the Cyclones auditioned the 6-foot-2, 230-pound former all-state wrestler at middle linebacker. Quickly, the experiment turned into a smashing success. Lanning intercepted Park for a pick-six in the spring game. And through the first month of the season, he rapidly developed into one of the top linebackers in the Big 12, now ranking second in the league in tackles.

But last week, Park took a leave of absence from the team due to an undisclosed personal medical issue. That left Iowa State with an unexpected quandary at quarterback.

Tuesday, Campbell decided to start walk-on senior transfer Kyle Kempt. But later in the week, the Cyclones called Lanning over to the offense as a quarterback reinforcement.

“He didn’t get any reps (at quarterback) this week. We were kind of drawing up plays in the dirt for him on Thursday and Friday, but I’m glad we did,” Campbell said. “It was a dicey decision because he’s playing linebacker and you don’t want to take him away from the defensive side of the ball where you know he’s needed.”

Turned out, Lanning was needed everywhere. And as a result, he was all over the field.

“They told me to hydrate all week, and I felt fine while I was out there,” Lanning said. “Never got too exhausted.”

Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and Chuck Bednarik would've been proud.

“What he’s doing is unheard of,” Campbell said. “The Cyclone Nation will remember Joel Lanning for a long, long time.”