After sitting out his freshman year as a redshirt and then serving as a backup his sophomore season, Nebraska redshirt sophomore Tanner Farmer began the spring camp in hopes of competing for playing time at offensive guard on a line that graduated four key seniors. Not long into camp, the 2014 Highland High School graduate was bumped up to work with the top unit at right guard.
He remained there the rest of the spring. The hulking 6-4, 310-pound Farmer is was the unanimous choice by Cornhuskers’ coaching staff to start at right guard with the season opener — at home against Fresno State University — looming a month away.
“As long as I can stay injury-free through fall camp, I should be able to keep and maintain that starting job,” Farmer humbly said. “At first, we didn’t really know for sure. I actually started on the second string and had to work my way up. You go to practice, and they say, ‘Farmer, you’re first string now.’ Then you go through practice, and the next thing you know, you’re first string every practice. That’s pretty much how you find out you’re the new starter.”
Farmer drew praise for his physical play and toughness, something Nebraska offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh had been stressing for his front five.
Farmer didn’t play as a red-shirt freshman, so experience is missing, but the Huskers lost the four seniors and were looking for several players to step up.
“Tanner, I think, made a major move this spring,” Husker second-year coach Mike Riley recently told the Omaha World-Herald. “Physically, he was always impressive. But now he has emerged and become overall football-wise impressive. We’re excited about him, and he should really help the interior of our line be more physical.”
Riley noted that Farmer was one of the better players in individual drills, and he fit into the team part of it at a higher level.
Farmer beat out senior Corey Whitaker for the starting job at right guard after the duo had been in a good battle in the spring. Farmer knows that he can’t just rest on his laurels and that Whitaker will keep him honest now that fall practices are in full gear after kicking off last Wednesday.
“Corey Whitaker is going to try to get that starting spot all he can, especially since this is his last year,” Farmer said. “Personally, I don’t feel any pressure, but I have always got to be aware and I can’t be too overconfident. I just have got to keep working hard and be the best that I can be.”
Farmer was always one of the biggest and best players throughout high school and was one of the most highly touted offensive lineman recruits coming out. But the Highland native found out right out of the gate that Division I college football, especially at a tradition-rich school such as Nebraska, was a huge step up from high school, and there was a much steeper learning curve.
“It’s nothing like high school. I mean, all of your jobs are pretty much the same, it just now gets a lot more complex,” he said. “Now everybody’s strong, everybody’s fast. That first year of football and school was a big eye-opener, and I got humbled a whole bunch. Whenever I first got here, I was thinking, ‘Maybe I will come in here and start.’ Then after that first practice — nope. I knew right away that I had work to do.”
Farmer said the biggest part he had to work on for the gridiron was the mental aspect and becoming more of a student of the game.
“I have to know what the defense is doing,” he said. “I have to be able to look at their defense, see how their lined up and be able to predict what’s going to happen — this guy is coming, that guy is coming — and to make calls, depending upon our plays, to counteract act. That’s really been the hardest part for me. In high school, I played football, but I didn’t really know the logistics of it, like how everything worked. I was not a student of the game. I was just this big bruiser who would just go hit a guy.”
Despite going 66-27 in seven seasons with the Huskers, Bo Pelini — the coach who recruited Farmer to Nebraska — was fired on Nov. 30, 2014, which was before the team’s bowl game and during Farmer’s redshirt freshman season.
Just days later, Nebraska hired Riley to lead its football program, signing the coach to a five-year contract averaging $2.7 million per season.
“I had a lot of mixed emotions, because I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and I think that is one of the reasons why I didn’t play at all last year,” Farmer said. “I was hurting myself, because I was upset. But once I got over that, I now have complete trust and nothing but love for these new coaches.”
Now that he in his second full year under Riley and Cavanaugh, Farmer has bought completely in to the new coaching regime.
“I realize that Coach Riley and coach Cav (Cavanaugh) want what is best for me, just like the other coaching staff did, and they will be there for me and are the best guys for the job now,” Farmer said. “After all these practices, I realize these guys are amazing at what they do, and they are going to lead this team to the next level. I feel very comfortable with them now, and I have no doubts.”
Farmer said his ultimate personal goal this season is to earn All-Big 10 honors.
He has even loftier goals going forward.
“Eventually, I want to win an Outland Trophy, which is the Heisman of the linemen,” he said.
The Outland Trophy is awarded to the best United States college football interior lineman by the Football Writers Association of America. It is named after John H. Outland. One of only a few players ever to be named All-America at two positions, Outland garnered consensus All-America honors in 1898 at tackle and consensus All-America honors at halfback in 1899.
“That is one of my goals, and hopefully I can do it,” Farmer said. “Very few can do it, but Nebraska is known for churning out Outland Trophy winners.”
Nebraska leads the nation with nine Outland Trophy winners, including 2009 honoree Ndamukong Suh, a defensive tackle who was drafted by the Detroit Lions second overall in the 2010 NFL Draft and currently plays for the Miami Dolphins. Three other Huskers have also been finalists for the award.
Farmer believes that, with the wealth of talent in the program, the Cornhuskers should be challenging for a national title by his senior year.
“But I don’t think it’s going to take that long,” he said. “I think, either this year or next year, we could get a berth in the playoffs. We have the potential. We just have so much talent, we have a lot of weapons. In my opinion, our offensive and defensive lines will be the two best lines in the country. We have so much talent, but I also see how hard these guys work every day; nobody outworks us. We’re going to be pushing people back.”
He said a key will be getting some experience and development on the offensive front, as well as for some guys on the defensive side.
Farmer said there are some heated battles between both sides of the ball in practice.
“But we’re all friends at the end of the day. It’s just a heat of the moment thing.”
Nebraska will face a schedule that is littered with top-tier competition. The Huskers will host perennial power Oregon in its third game of the season, at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 17. The game will air on national television on ABC.
“Oregon will be our first big test, and I am completely confident that we should go in there and beat the crap out of them,” Farmer said.
Other tough games will be at Wisconsin on Oct. 29, at Ohio State on Nov. 5, and at Iowa on Nov. 25. The Big Ten championship game is set for Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.
From the gridiron to the mat
Farmer spent this past winter doing double duty. In addition to his off-season work in the weight room, Farmer returned to his next favorite passion as he spent time with the Husker wrestling team.
After repeating as an undefeated IHSA Class 3A state champion at 285 pounds in 2013 and 2014, Farmer returned to the other sport he loved and dropped 50 pounds from 335 pounds to serve as a backup in the 285-pound weight class. He posted a 5-1 record while competing in open tournaments for Nebraska.
“I love wrestling, and it was amazing to get back into it,” said HHS’ first-ever wrestling state champion. “I really enjoy the physical aspect of beating the crap out of somebody, whether it be at football or wrestling. And I’m not like that in my normal day life. But I think, since I have football and wrestling, I think it kind of calms down any other rogue emotions that I may have. And I think wrestling kind of reeled me in, and I was able to focus a lot more, realize where I was at in life and what was really important.”
Farmer said he will continue wrestling every year in the winter for his last three years of eligibility, so he will now have both sports and that constant year-round focus, drive and training just like he did in high school.
“Football is almost year round and so is wrestling, and they work great together,” he said. “Wrestling is the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Pulling double duty pretty much takes up a lot of Farmer’s time and energy — both physically and mentally — as he typically puts in about a 15-hour day.
“It’s busy, and I don’t really have much of a social life. I just go, go, go,” he said.
While in wrestling season, it sure doesn’t get any easier. Farmer wakes up at about 6 a.m. and runs, either for conditioning or for a high-tempo workout. Most of his workout runs are the short 10-yards sprints. He ran a 10-yard dash of 1.72 seconds in the spring, but he thinks he will even be quicker than that this fall.
“I usually don’t have to run farther than 10 yards,” Farmer said while breaking into a laugh. “I just have to be quick off the line.”
Next, he will go to class from 8:30 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m., before grabbing a bite to eat. Then he will lift in the afternoon before wrestling practice begins at 3:30. After that, he will eat dinner before going to tutoring until about 9 p.m.
Then it’s sleep and repeat the next day.
During football season, Farmer wakes up and lifts or runs before classes. Then, from about 12:30 until about 3:30, he has meetings with his coaches to go over plays and the game plan for the upcoming game. Then, the team holds intense practices for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
“What I like about it is that it’s a high-tempo practice where you go, go, go. But they make sure you get plenty of water and plenty of rest,” Farmer said. “... We can grab water any time we want — anytime we are thirsty — and I really like that, because I sweat a lot.”
Then he cleans up and eats dinner before going to tutoring.
An NCAA rule sanctions that all athletes must have one day off a week. So, during wrestling season, Farmer has to take two days off a week.
Pumping iron and Yoga
In the weight room, Farmer regularly bench presses 365 pounds for four repetitions, while he also does a set of 225 pounds for 30 reps. He said he has not maxed out in a while, but he estimates that he could top out at pretty close to 500 pounds.
Farmer also has been doing sets four reps of back squats at 500 pounds, as well as four reps of front squats of 455 pounds.
Farmer also said he has gotten in to yoga, because it helps him with his flexibility, which in turn, helps his speed.
“I love Yoga. It’s a great Zen experience,” he said. “A lot of times during wrestling season, if I didn’t have tutoring or homework, I would go to Yoga. I always go to a very low tempo, because I just want to stretch.”
Football, a way of life
Farmer, the son of Brian and Connie Farmer of Highland, is majoring in nutrition, health and exercise science, but he never wants to stray away from football. He ultimately wants to be a college strength or a college football coach.
“I love football. Football is my life,” Farmer said. “Don’t get me wrong, I am a student-athlete and school comes first. But I love football so much, and I don’t ever want to leave it. I want to stay around it my entire life.”
2016 Nebraska Cornhuskers Football Schedule
Sept. 3: Fresno State, 7 p.m. (BTN)
Sept. 10: Wyoming, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Sept. 17: Oregon, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
Sept. 24: at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Oct. 1: Illinois, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 15: at Indiana, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 22: Purdue, TBA
Oct. 29: at Wisconsin, 6 p.m. (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2)
Nov. 5: at Ohio State, 7 p.m. (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2)
Nov. 12: Minnesota, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Nov. 19: Maryland, TBA
Nov. 25: at Iowa, TBA
*The Big Ten championship game will be in Indianapolis on Dec. 3.