FRISCO, Texas – The slash, the angled line found at the far right of the bottom row of your QUERTY keyboard, is not recognized as one of the 14 official punctuation marks. It is commonly used to separate alternatives.
When you find a slash on a college football roster, it’s typically used for players with more than one position – RB/WR or P/K or DE/LB. Big-time college football is a complicated sport and mastering more than one position is challenging.
There have been some two-way players, usually defensive backs who have seen spot duty running a few snaps or two as a wide receiver. In recent years, UCLA’s Myles Jack (linebacker/running back) and USC’s Adoree Jackson (cornerback/wide receiver) evoked the days of one-platoon football.
There is one “slash” on Iowa State’s roster and it designates one of the more unique dual-position players in college football. Senior Joel Lanning is listed as LB/QB. Last year’s starter in eight games at quarterback has moved to linebacker.
During spring practice, Iowa State linebackers coach Tyson Veidt was stumped and said he couldn’t think of a quarterback ever making the switch to linebacker.
And this isn’t a folly or a down-on-its-luck program looking for publicity.
“If we had to play tomorrow, Joel Lanning would be our starting linebacker,” second-year Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said Monday at Big 12 Media Days. “It says about his ability and athletic ability. By the time we got to our last spring practices, it was apparent he could play the position. You could see the progression he made from the first practice to the last.”
Campbell had an epiphany during Iowa State’s final game of last season, a 49-19 loss to West Virginia. Jacob Park, who had shared time with Lanning, had played well enough to earn the starting role. For Campbell, having one of the Cyclones’ best players (the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Lanning) standing on the sidelines made no sense.
“One of the first practices in my first year, I thought Joel looked like a linebacker playing quarterback,” Campbell said. “Three weeks after the last game, we decided to give a try. I can’t say we were a prophet. He fit everything we were looking for in our ‘mike’ linebacker.
“You have to give Joel credit. He loses the quarterback job, a lot of players might decide to transfer. He changed positions, he welcomed it, for the good of the program.”
Cyclones defensive back Brian Peavy says he and his fellow defenders haven’t given Lanning much grief. Guys who play defense tend to not like quarterbacks.
“We finally got somebody to come over from the bad side to the good side,” he said with a smile. “At first, it was a surprise but if you saw him play quarterback, he sort of had a linebacker’s mentality when he was running the ball.”
The last time Lanning played defense was in eighth grade. While there are some similarities – the quarterback runs the offense, the middle linebacker QBs the defense – he has spent hours in the film room studying and more hours in the weight room building his body to deliver hits instead of take them.
“There’s a lot of footwork and keeping your eyes in the right place to make your reads,” he said. “You have to get to the point where you just see and react. You can’t think, you have to see it and go. I feel like the way I play on offense, running the ball and stuff, I was physical. … It’s kind of like running the ball, so you’ve just got to run up and tackle someone.”
One of the bigger issues for Joel Lanning will be resolving a uniform number issue. He wears No. 7, has always worn No. 7. Iowa State junior linebacker Willie Harvey wears the same number. Lanning figures seniority will win out and Harvey will have to find a new number.
Besides, Lanning will likely be used at quarterback in short yardage situations.
“We’ve talked about having me in some packages, short yardage, maybe even split out at wide receiver,” Lanning said. “I might just be lined up on offense to give the defense something else to think about.
“It’ll be fun.”
The linebacker Joel Lanning had a pick six – the bane of a quarterback’s existence – in Iowa State’s spring game. He admitted that a dream scenario would be to throw a touchdown pass and have an interception in the same game.
“Joel wants to win and he’ll do anything for the team,” Iowa State senior wide receiver Allen Lazard said. “He wrestled in high school, he’s a great athlete. If there’s any quarterback in the country that could make the switch to linebacker, it’s him.”