Football coaches in the Central Minnesota Conference had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
For three years they had been plagued by the unanswerable question: “How do you stop Josh Lanners?”
That wasn’t the only problem the Pierz Pioneers’ senior poised for opposing teams.
For as good as Lanners was as a running back — and his statistics speak for themselves — Lanners was equally as effective at disrupting opponents’ offenses.
“If you look at his size (5-foot-11, 171 pounds) it looks like he probably played a cornerback or strong safety and he could have played there, too,” said Pierz defensive coordinator Dan Saehr. “But we put him at middle linebacker because we wanted him in the middle of the field. That’s where we thought he would benefit us the most.
“To be honest, he’s not a hard hitter, but he can tackle. I can’t remember a kid breaking a tackle on him. His impact on the football field was unreal. So many people in our conference said he might be a better defensive player than he was a running back.”
That’s a profound statement and here’s why. As a sophomore he rushed for 563 yards and five touchdowns on 89 carries. He followed that with 1,320 yards and 19 touchdowns on 225 carries his junior season. He added 15 receptions for 220 yards and another score. He was named the conference running back of the year as a junior and repeated that feat this season as he rushed for 1,508 yards and 24 touchdowns on 212 carries. He caught 16 passes for 198 yards and another touchdown.
He led the area in yards and touchdowns. He was sixth in rushing average.
“That was one of the things about Josh, you would look at his stats at the end of the game and he would have 39 carries,” said Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp. “When you think of handling the work load you think of this big fullback who can take the pounding of that many carries, not your tailback. Well, when Tyler Millner went down during the middle of the year we were trying to get things going. We were still in the conference hunt and we were trying to get better so we relied on Josh quite a bit. He never complained one bit. The thing of it is he couldn’t rest on defense and he never did. He made a lot of plays for us. For three years he made plays for us and we’ll miss him. One person isn’t going to replace him. He was the real deal.”
Despite the added attention by defenses, the mounting list of statistics and the praise of his own coaches, Lanners just wanted to help his team.
“I wanted our team to go back to state like we did last year,” Lanners said. “It was a really big goal of mine. I didn’t have any personal goals.”
He wasn’t having any of the praise either.
“The line was everything,” he said. “They worked the hardest in practice and in games. They made our season. Mitch Hasert started with me as sophomores. We have had great chemistry these last three years. I’ve known all of them for a long time. We wrestle together and we’re all really good friends. We go out to eat and hang out.”
Lanners didn’t have break-away speed, nor was he plowing over too many people. But he rarely lost yards and always seemed to break a tackle or two.
“He really was able to finish his runs,” Pohlkamp said. “We tell our running backs to fight for those extra yards. None of his runs were very long, but he still managed to get 3,000 career yards. He accelerated through the hole. You felt sorry for the safeties and cornerbacks because it seemed like they were the ones always having to bring him down.”
Defensively he led Pierz with 101 tackles to go with 1.5 sacks as a sophomore. His junior season saw Lanners collect 93 tackles, two interceptions, one sack and one pass breakup. This year Lanners finished with 68 total tackles, one sack, two interceptions, five pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
“Without a question he was our MVP,” said Saehr. “The thing about him, he made other players better. The other kids fed off him. His tenacity and intensity, everyone fed off that. Halfway through the season I told Leo that we might need him more defensively than on offense. You never say that about a good running back. But he was a special football player. He was one of the better defensive players I have coached in 11 years. I won’t say he’s the best, but he’s as good as one I’ve ever seen.”
During Lanners’ three seasons as a stater, Pierz finished with a 26-6 record and a state tournament appearance.
“We had a good run,” Lanners said. “We just came up short this year. Holdingford was a really good team and they deserved it as much as we did. But it’s amazing to be part of the Pierz football program. The coaching staff is excellent. It was just an honor to be one of the players out on the field with all the other guys.”