Athletic Farmer ready to roll up sleeves with Lions

Kevin Rooney has produced Parade All-Americans and future NFL players while coaching at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., but even he was impressed by what he saw Koa Farmer do on a run late in a game last fall against Chaminade.

“You just shake your head and go, ‘wow.’ You don’t see that very often,” Rooney said, laughing as he recalled the play.

Farmer, moving from receiver to play wildcat quarterback, hurdled an oncoming defender while somehow avoiding another would-be tackler coming on a blind angle from behind, landed and raced the final 50 yards on a 69-yard touchdown jaunt. It was so electrifying that it was voted the play of the year by the local Fox Sports affiliate and has been featured on multiple YouTube clips.

“That was crazy,” Farmer said. “I’ll never do that again.”

“He’s definitely got some outstanding ability, so you expect him to make great plays.” Rooney said. “It’s kind of unfortunate for those players, because everyone’s always expecting them to make great plays all the time. But he’s a really level-headed guy who’s always going to do whatever he can to be better all the time.”

Although, because of the distance to travel, he’s one of the few 2014 recruits who isn’t expected to be at Penn State today for the Nittany Lions’ Blue-White Game, Farmer signed with James Franklin’s program in February, and that combination of outstanding ability and level head has made him one of the best bets among the incoming freshmen to get onto the field as early as this fall.

“He’s that type of dominating player,” said recruiting analyst Jeff Duva, who had the opportunity to see Farmer multiple times over his career.

Playing strong safety for Notre Dame, Farmer was the Los Angeles Daily News defensive player of the year in 2013 after making 62 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks while forcing three fumbles. He also scored 18 touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball.

Because of his growth potential – Farmer already is 6-foot-2, 212 pounds – and his reputation as a big hitter, his long-term future might be as a linebacker. However, the initial plans for him at Penn State are at safety, and the 10.93-second 100-meter dash and 22.03 200 he ran at a track meet earlier this month make it easy to see him thriving in the secondary bringing a style similar to his favorite NFL player, Seattle Seahawks All-Pro Kam Chancellor.

On top of that, Farmer has the bloodlines. His father, Jamal Farmer, set a freshman collegiate record with 18 rushing touchdowns in the late 1980s while playing at the University of Hawaii.

“He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s fast, big. He’s smart. He’s a team guy. He’s coachable. He’s just a very nice human being and a good kid,” Rooney said of Farmer, who volunteers in a convalescent hospital in his free time and wants to pursue a career in forensic science.

It makes one wonder how Penn State was able to pluck a player like Farmer out of southern California. Farmer grew up in the shadow of UCLA and as a fan of California – he actually originally committed to the Golden Bears. He also had scholarship offers from Washington, Arizona State, Colorado and Fresno State, as well as Wisconsin, Harvard and Yale.

However, James Franklin and his staff already had offered Farmer a scholarship when they were still at Vanderbilt and continued to pursue him when they went to Penn State. Farmer said he didn’t really know much about Penn State when the Nittany Lions made the scholarship offer, but it wasn’t because he wasn’t interested, and he was blown away when the offer came.

“I didn’t think of myself as that big-time. I thought Penn State was really big time for me,” Farmer said with a laugh. “At first [when they called], I didn’t believe it. When Coach went up there, I kind of knew it was coming, but, when it happened, it still was shocking.”

Maybe not as shocking as when Farmer arrived at Penn State in late January and saw all the snow.

“I hadn’t seen snow since I was maybe 4, and I don’t remember it. I never saw snow come from the sky,” Farmer said.

It didn’t turn out to be a deal-breaker for a kid from a much warmer climate. In fact, Farmer said experiencing something new like that just added to Penn State’s appeal, which already was strong because of the academics and the strong relationship he had with Franklin and his assistants.

He committed the next day.

“Them having my major as an undergrad really sold it. And Coach Franklin and that whole motivated coaching staff, they bring a lot of energy to the table. I can tell they want to do something special at Penn State,” Farmer said. “I think it will be good for me.”

Football has been good for Farmer, who loved the camaraderie of the sport, but there was a time, despite his father’s background, when his heart really was in basketball. He was a good enough player growing up to be part of nationally competing AAU teams. Ironically, it was the court that led him to the field.

“My dad wanted me to take up football so I could be more physical for basketball. So I went out when I was 10. I played one year, then I didn’t go out the next year, then I started playing consistently when I was 12,” Farmer said. “Basketball is like volleyball: The [traveling team] season is more important than the regular season. In high school, when it was travel season, I was playing football. Football ended up taking over.

“It’s funny. I never would have thought I would get a scholarship for playing football.”