An ankle injury that led to surgery forced Highland High School graduate Tanner Farmer to miss the final four games of Nebraska’s football season.
But it didn’t prevent the 6-foot-4, 305-pound offensive lineman from being honored as a first-team pick on the All-Big Ten Conference team by Pro Football Focus.
Farmer, a redshirt junior, got the news in a roundabout way.
“My dad (Brian) had seen it,” Farmer said. “He had told my mother (Connie) and my brother (Josh Seyler), then my brother called me up and told me. I was really excited; I was very happy. I didn’t really get any recognition from the coaches. I didn’t get first (-team), second (-team) or honorable-mention, so I didn’t expect to see it coming.”
Despite the injury, suffered Oct. 28 in a 25-24 victory over host Purdue, Farmer thought he had a “pretty good season” filling the right-guard spot.
“I had some good games,” he said. “It’s just that (the season) ended early. I was sad to have (the injury) happen. I felt like I could have kept on getting better. They looked at how I was playing when I was playing.”
Farmer said the surgery repaired a torn ligament. He was recently cleared to begin a rehabilitation program that will have him ready for his senior season, which will be played under new Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost, who last week was hired to replace Mike Riley. In three seasons under Riley, Nebraska was 19-19, including 4-8 this season.
It will be a big final season for Farmer, who covets a chance to play in the National Football League. He will be eligible for the draft in April 2019.
“I’m hoping. It’s my dream to play professional football,” Farmer said. “I really hope that opportunity arises for me. I think it’s very reasonable for me to have that opportunity with how I’m playing, how I’m progressing. Next year, I’m going to be even better. I can’t wait for next season just to prove myself.”
Farmer is awaiting information from NFL personnel about what his prospects could be for the 2019 draft. Nebraska staff produced a video package of Farmer’s performances against Illinois and Big Ten powers Ohio State and Wisconsin.
“They grade it out and tell you what you need to do better,” Farmer said. “I haven’t gotten the information back yet, but that’s how you figure that kind of stuff out.”
Farmer, 21, long ago learned to understood there are few fringe benefits associated with being an offensive lineman. Sure, there are highlight videos that show dominance, but no statistics to indicate how a player is performing.
That’s OK with Farmer.
“Being in the trenches, you take a beating all game,” he said. “You can’t do it unless you love it. I love being in there. I love protecting my quarterback. I love the feeling of pass-blocking and seeing the ball sail over my head, then I see one of our receivers down the field catch it. And I love making this big block and watching the running back just bust through the line and go for a big run.
“It’s one of the few places where there are no stats. There’s stuff like how many (quarterback) pressures you’re giving up, how many sacks you’ve given up, how many penalties you’ve had. But most of the stats you get are pretty much making sure you don’t have any stats. The fewer stats you have in those area — penalties, sacks and pressures — the better you’re doing.”
Farmer allowed just one sack and was charged with just two penalties this season: one offside and one unsportsmanlike conduct. In the latter case, against Illinois, Farmer said he became entangled with a defensive lineman.
“We ended up going over the pile. It just didn’t look good, so the referee decided he needed to throw a flag for that,” Farmer said. “It may have been (questionable).”
Farmer said he considered himself more of a run-blocker in high school, where he played for Bulldogs coach Jimmy Warnecke. Times have changed.
“I’ve matured,” he said. “When I first started pass-blocking, whenever I punched somebody, my shoulders would come forward. I would lean forward. That really opens up a whole bunch of moves for the defensive guy. I’ve gotten a lot better at keeping my shoulders back and keeping my balance. My balance has gotten a lot better and my speed has gotten a lot better. You have to constantly get better.
“A big body doesn’t mean much. You’ve got to have the technique. You’ve got to have strength and speed. You’ve got to have the mind for it.”
Farmer also was a two-time Class 2A state wrestling champion at 285 pounds and has been able to compete in his second love at Nebraska. He was 5-1 with one pin as a redshirt freshman in 2015-16, competing in the heavyweight division. Farmer was with the team but did not compete as a sophomore last year because the Cornhuskers played in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, and Farmer didn’t have time to bring down his weight.
This season, he plans to be back on the mat.
“I’m not back quite yet just because I’m still working out with my range of motion on my ankle,” Farmer said. “They’re wanting me to come back after the (semester) break. It’s a good way to keep me busy and a way to get me a lot better (in football). It’s great for your balance, your quickness, your conditioning and mental toughness. I should be getting back around Jan. 5.”
Illinois was one of many schools that recruited Farmer. The Illini were 2-10 this season and haven’t had a winning record since 2011, when they were 7-6.
Farmer believes Illinois will turn around its fortunes.
“I feel like they’re going to do a lot better in the years to come,” he said. “I think they started 18 freshmen this year. They didn’t have a lot of experience. They were young guys. When you’re a freshman, it’s a completely different game coming in from whenever you’re in high school. You have so much stuff to adjust to. So after those guys have gotten a year underneath their belt, I think they’ll be a lot better.
“Illinois will be on the rise from where they are. I’m a Nebraska fan, first and foremost, but I’ll also be an Illinois fan. I’m a Big Ten fan. I want the Big Ten to succeed overall.”