Sep 17, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Joel Lanning (7) throws a pass in the first quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Joel Lanning cradled the snap and started sprinting.
The 6-2, 225-pounder quickly encountered resistance in the form of three TCU tacklers, who spun him around.
But Lanning kept the legs churning, and as he careened powerfully toward the end zone, he received a generous push from walk-on running back Mitchell Harger.
“I just kept going,” Lanning said.
Whatever it takes.
The strong-armed junior’s eight-yard touchdown run in last week’s 41-20 loss served as a highlight for the 0-3 Cyclones, who need to conjure up many more to roll into the victory column at 11 a.m. Saturday (FSN) against underdog San Jose State.
“I was just fighting for everything that I could to try to get something going,” Lanning said of the bruising run.
And maybe that quote should serve as the slogan for this season of learning, rebuilding and rebranding under first-year coach Matt Campbell.
Fighting. Trying. Giving one’s all to jump-start success.
Most of the Cyclones are clearly bought in to the main principles required for a long-sought turnaround, including Lanning and fellow quarterback Jacob Park — with whom he’ll share snaps again against the visiting Spartans (1-2).
Lanning completed 12 of 21 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown in the defeat. Park connected on 7 of 15 for 90 yards. Both averaged six yards per completion — and both offer complementary skills that make their presence on the field valuable.
“They’ll grow as our team grows,” Campbell said.
Advancing toward wins relies on more than quarterbacks and marquee players. Stars such as receiver Allen Lazard, who is expected to play despite a foot injury, and tailback Mike Warren, who rushed for a season-high 95 yards last week, will get theirs. Key contributions from walk-ons such as Harger, and offensive linemen Nick Fett and Brian Seda, are also necessary.
So far, so good on those fronts.
Seda, who grew up on a family farm near Traer, made his first start against the Horned Frogs. It’s a day the fifth-year senior wasn’t sure would ever come — until Campbell came onto the scene and noticed him. The work continued, however, and an opportunity beckoned when ISU faced yet another O-line shuffle last week because of Jaypee Philbert’s still-standing suspension.
“I dont know if anybody loves Iowa State more than Brian Seda,” said Campbell, whose team is a touchdown favorite against San Jose State. “He bleeds this place, and I said this to Fett and Seda kind of, I wish we had those guys for two or three more years. I think they’re both really talented football players. I think they’re both guys you have really good ability. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re athletic.
“Shoot, Brian Seda, I don’t even know if he even practiced a rep with the first or second team in the last four years of his career. But he’s a kid who when you went through spring practice, you were like, ‘Man this guy, he goes 100 miles an hour every single day.’ He really worked hard, continued to get bigger and stronger in the offseason and then came into fall camp and I think we were all like, ‘Gosh, this guy has a chance to help us somewhere down the line.’ Lo and behold, did we know he’d be here this fast? Maybe not, but I love to go to war with guys like that. Guys that love football. Guys that it’s really important to and that guy, he gets it.”
Seda shrugs at the recognition. Sure, he played just about every snap last week after seeing a mere handful in previous seasons, but as he sees it, he’s just doing his job. Now, finally, it’s happening on the big stage.
“For me it’s just 100 percent effort every play,” the former North Tama star said. “I’m not the most talented guy out there. I’d be the first one to tell you that, but no one’s going to play harder than me out there. That’s my mission on every play, to just give it everything I’ve got.”
If everyone else for the Cyclones follows suit, “the process” opens up promising possibilities — for Saturday and well beyond. If that means two quarterbacks, fine. If it means gambling on defense, so be it. Whatever it takes is the reverberating mantra. Anything less is unacceptable.
“Knowing that (the line) is going to get better each week is big for me and it’s big for probably everyone else,” Warren said. “Because they’re the heart and core of the offense.”
Campbell is both teaching and watching; crafting a fulcrum from which to launch. Opportunities are earned. Nothing’s a given, in the short or the long-term.
“He’s a coach who’s all over the field in practice and making sure everybody’s doing things right,” said fifth-year senior defensive tackle Pierre Aka. “I think that’s part of changing our culture: Expecting to win, but you expect to win because you earned the right to win. I think he’s saying that with this team and this culture that we’re trying to change wins will come, earned. And you’ll earn it because you were going in confidently and preparing right and practicing right.”