Iowa State's Matt Campbell sees progress in rebuilding project

'Getting-to-know-you' phase is over for Cyclones, second-year coach

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FRISCO, Texas — Turnarounds don’t happen overnight, but once in awhile, there are hints that things are changing.

Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell saw things start to turn a positive corner this offseason.

“It’s been really fun,” Campbell said Monday at Big 12 football media days. “Our kids have worked really, really hard and have invested greatly not only in themselves but in the team concept. That’s been really rewarding to see.”

The getting-to-know-you phase is over. The coaches set expectations, but real accountability often happens amongst the players themselves. Once players are truly on board, everything starts to fall in line.

“At first the standard was very hard to adjust to because he held really high standards, especially in the classroom, for us and getting extra work in,” said wide receiver Allen Lazard. “Now it just feels like second nature for us instead of a task or a punishment. We’re just used to it.”

Campbell’s philosophy on accountability and policing his program isn’t unlike that of a teacher with a new class. It’s much easier to start tough and get softer than it is the other way around. Structure, responsibility and accountability are all staples of a rebuild.

Iowa State went 3-9 last season, but held two-touchdown leads against Baylor and Oklahoma State. A five-point loss to Northern Iowa in the season opener sticks out, too. Campbell is now seventh in the Big 12 in league coaching tenure — ahead of Texas’ Tom Herman, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Baylor’s Matt Rhule.

The difference going into year two is team DNA and how things operate internally from the outset.

“I know when Coach Campbell first came in, it was more like, ‘Alright, it sounds good ...’” said cornerback Brian Peavy. “I don’t think a lot of people actually bought in and really knew how to get to the goal he was preaching. Now I feel like more players know how to trust in the process and not only hop in the van, but offer to drive it.”

If there had to be a primary van driver, senior linebacker Joel Lanning would be it. His move from quarterback to starting middle linebacker has been well documented. Now several months into the change, Lanning feels at home and knows the asset his services could be.

At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Lanning not only looks like a linebacker, but is starting to sound like one too. From the broad technique of doing the job to the nuance of a given play, Lanning immersed himself in defense and is taking anything he’s learning to heart.

“I was used to dictating the speed of the game,” Lanning said. “Now you’ve just got to go and get lined up and be a lot more prepared. Obviously as a quarterback you’ve got to be prepared, but as a linebacker you’ve got to see everything. You’re setting the fronts and calling the play calls. You’ve got to know just as much at linebacker as you do at quarterback.”

Lanning’s move to linebacker gives that position some badly needed depth, but also adds to the talent pool. Freshman Tymar Sutton and Marcel Spears are the youth that complements Lanning and junior Willie Harvey, and could turn out to be one of the team’s strengths, Campbell said.

“There’s some length there. There are some guys that can add pressure with blitz situations, but they are also guys that can run sideline to sideline and tackle in space,” Campbell said. “As we all know in this conference and really in college football, if you can tackle in space you can be good on defense. I think we have some guys that can do that for us.”

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