Replacing former center Scott Mruczkowski, Bowling Green State University's version of Old Faithful with a school record 49 starts, might seem like an intimidating task. But for John Lanning, it's not about living up to someone else.
Lanning, a junior from Alpharetta, Ga., has overcome four knee surgeries to rise to the top of the depth chart at center coming into the Falcons' spring game today at noon at Perry Stadium.
He is lacking endurance because he devoted yet another winter to rehab, and his strength isn't ideal. Lanning is the player to beat, though, not because of his physical feats on the field this spring but for his determination to return to the field.
"To go through the things he's gone through and still be playing, he has to really love the game," offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said. "That's the kind of guy you want playing, who really loves it."
Make no mistake, Lanning has not won the starting job in the fall. Senior Jonathan Culp, second-string center, is "playing the best he's played since he's been here," Studrawa said. But Lanning's determination has amazed his position coach.
"I've coached for a long time, and I've had guys who had two knee surgeries and said, 'Coach, that's enough,'●" Studrawa said. "There was never a time where I thought John was going to give up. All I heard from him was, 'This is a little bit of a setback, but I'll get through it.'●"
Lanning, (6-4, 294 pounds) has had two surgeries on each knee to repair torn cartilage. He missed the 2003 season and the second half of 2004 because of the injuries.
Going down midway through last season was especially hard for Lanning, because after going through training camp and playing in the first part of the season, he missed the games he especially looked forward to: the Toledo and Marshall games and the bowl game.
"It seems like every time I get going a little bit I get knocked back down with some kind of injury," Lanning said.
His spring has been successful, and coach Gregg Brandon has confidence that Lanning will have enough time before the season starts to return to his pre-injury prime.
"He's got May, June, July, the rest of this month, to train, get his strength back," Brandon said.
Lanning has had teammates on the offensive line who have been through what he's going through, at least to some extent. Left tackle Rob Warren and former right tackle Andrew Hart have also had knee surgeries, and both followed with impressive performances.
"I was able to kind of use those guys as a role model, take from their experiences," Lanning said.
Lanning hasn't been the only lineman under the spotlight this spring. Both starting positions are open on the right side of the line. Sophomore Drew Nystrom and junior Derrick Markray are the current first-stringers, although Studrawa said he would put Pat Watson on equal ground with Markray the past few weeks.
Nystrom is adjusting to playing on the right side after two years on the left. Studrawa said if Nystrom has a solid game today, he will give the starting job to him.
Lanning knows he still has a long way to go but is fine with that.
"It's been hard, but it's been worth it," he said.
Contact Maureen Fulton at:
or (419) 724-6160.
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