It wouldn't be a stretch to say George Farmer has learned a thing or two about adversity in his time at USC. Forced to deal with a number of injuries -- including nagging hamstring and ankle setbacks -- not to mention a brief experiment at tailback during his freshman season, the junior wide receiver never found his groove in his first two seasons on campus, collecting a grand total of five receptions for 49 yards.
But in a spring marked by change, a new-and-improved Farmer has emerged, performing at a higher and more consistent level than ever, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. After all, Robert Woods is off to the NFL, and USC coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans’ offense need capable receivers opposite 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee.
With so much at stake, Farmer is fully aware of the opportunity that lies in front of him.
“This is a big spring for me -- very big,” Farmer said following Saturday’s scrimmage, where his 47-yard reception was one of the day’s highlights.
But Farmer isn’t showing any signs of cracking under the pressure. On the contrary, he seems to be thriving under it.
“George is making plays,” Kiffin said. “We need him to make the hard plays -- down the field, to go up and get the ball and take it away and be physical. We know how fast he is, we know he can run by people, but you have to make those plays, and he’s doing that.”
Of course, it’s not as if Farmer’s play is coming as a complete surprise. Hailing from Gardena (Calif.) Serra, where he played alongside Woods and Lee, he had 65 receptions for 1,514 yards and 21 total touchdowns in his senior year. He arrived at USC in 2011 with arguably more fanfare than either of his high school teammates.
The reason for the sudden turnaround in his level of play is anything but a mystery -- he's the healthiest he's been in what seems like forever.
“I feel great,” said Farmer, a former standout prep sprinter who will compete for the USC track and field team later this spring. “I feel a lot more fluid, my legs are back up under me and I feel like I’m just back to my normal speed. I’m playing fast again. It feels really good to be out here competing with my brothers on the field.”
A thickly built athlete with a 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame, Farmer has come to understand that unlike some players who can just roll out of bed ready to play, he needs to take extra precautions. As such, in addition to working hard this offseason to push his body to the limits, he also made sure that he spent plenty of time in the training room.
“I’m a very heavy-set type of person, and I realized that I have to stay and get rehab -- not just for the sake of rehabbing, but for injury prevention, and staying in there and preventing my injuries before they happen,” Farmer said.
Now finally close to where he wants to be physically, Farmer has been able to more fully develop the other aspects of his game, including the mental side, something USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin has noticed.
“We put him on the board, ask him questions, and he’s on it,” Martin said. “He’s very smart, he understands what to do -- it’s just getting him a lot of reps. You still have to remember that last year was really his first year of college football playing at wide receiver. And now, in his second year … the spring time, this is where guys grow.”
And growing is something Farmer has done plenty of this March, providing at least some evidence suggesting he might be ready to step into the rotation at receiver next fall and make an impact.
But before then, there's still a lot more work to be done, and a lot more to prove on the field.
“Right now I’m just focused on getting out to practice, executing my assignments and doing what the coaches tell me,” Farmer said. "This is going to get me right for fall camp so I can just come out on fire, and we can just move forward from there. Right now, though, the only thing that I’m focused on is spring ball.”