STATE COLLEGE — For the first half of his Penn State football career, Koa Farmer changed positions so many times he wasn't sure some days whether he was a safety or a linebacker.
But as the Nittany Lions prepare for their Sept. 2 opener against Akron at Beaver Stadium, Farmer is firmly entrenched at outside linebacker and practicing with the first team.
Preseason camp this year has been much different for him.
"I'm not switching back and forth," Farmer said. "I'm able to master one position and get comfortable with that position. I'm just having fun, being more competitive and working on my craft."
Farmer, a junior, has made only two starts for Penn State. The second one came in the Rose Bowl when he made two tackles in a game played less than 20 minutes from his home.
Now Farmer and Manny Bowen are the first-team outside linebackers, which has given the Nittany Lions defense much more speed.
"He's what a lot of folks are looking for," said Brent Pry, the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. "He's a hybrid type player who has a lot of [defensive back] qualities. I think his roots are there, but he's growing as a linebacker. He's getting tougher. He's shedding blocks better. His tackling is getting better.
"He understands the play in the box, blocking schemes and things like that. He's really come a long way. I'm very excited about the season for Koa."
The 6-1 Farmer played against USC in the Rose Bowl at 222 pounds, but he's added 13 pounds without losing speed in order to fend off offensive linemen.
He was lighter and not detail-oriented in his first two seasons, which kept him out of the lineup. He wasn't interested in taking notes during meetings or spending more than the required time watching film.
"I think I'm taking more of a professional approach," he said. "I'm really watching film and really understanding why we run coverages. I'm more comfortable in the box.
"I literally can't wait for the first game. I come on blitzes at practice and have a chance to hit quarterbacks. I say (to himself), 'Man, I need to hit something.' I'm so excited. I can't wait to get into Beaver Stadium. It's going to be a good season."
Farmer played in every game last season, including a start against Maryland. He had five tackles that day, including the first sack and forced fumble of his career on the same play. He had another sack against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
"Koa is a unique guy," Pry said. "He has great size and tremendous speed. Now he's had a chance to train a full year at linebacker."
Farmer played wide receiver, running back, quarterback and safety at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had 18 touchdowns, 62 tackles and four interceptions as a senior. He was named the Los Angeles Daily News All-Area Defensive Player of the Year.
His father, Jamal, played football at Hawaii and Cal State Northridge and was named the Western Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year in 1989, when he set a then-NCAA freshman record with 18 rushing touchdowns.
Living 3,000 miles away, his father and his mother, Shirley, don't get to many Penn State games.
"It's a far trip," Farmer said. "My mom's from Hawaii and she doesn't like the cold. They honestly love watching it more on TV. My mom says, 'I love when they zoom in on your face.'
"As soon as I come out to the stadium, I FaceTime with my dad. It's cool. He's been my coach my whole life. I can see the emotion on his face, which is pretty awesome."
Even while he was going back and forth between safety and linebacker, Farmer played on special teams and led the Lions in 2015 with 18 kickoff returns for a 22.5 average.
Now it seems like he's found a home. He said he feels like a "true linebacker."
"He's a great worker," Pry said. "He's an old head out there. The guys really like him. I think he's a big piece to what's going on here right now."
This article is written by Rich Scarcella from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.