Six years later, USC freshman tailback George Farmer still recalls the day he came home from middle school to find a special visitor at his door.
“It was Reggie Bush, the Trojans’ running back I had been watching on TV for years,” said Farmer, whose family lived next door to Bush’s biological father. “At first I was so scared to talk to him because here was this larger than life figure about to win the Heisman Trophy and he is at my house. So, three months ago, if you had told me I would be playing the same position as him and the other great tailbacks that have come through here, I would have laughed.”
After a debut that featured four carries for four yards and one catch for 14 yards against California, Farmer knows his name is not yet worthy of being spoken in the same breath as former USC tailbacks Bush, Marcus Allen, O.J. Simpson or Charles White.
But for the class of 2011’s No. 1 recruit by Rivals.com, the journey from the slot to the backfield is all he’s concerned with going forward.
“I am basically going back to day one, starting all over and learning a brand new position,” Farmer said. “It’s about remembering the little things, the techniques, the fundamentals and just play[ing] hard.”
If you had mentioned Farmer’s name in the Trojans’ 2011 plans at the start of the season, the idea probably would have been tossed aside. But on Sept. 28, just when all signs pointed to the highly-touted wide receiver redshirting his freshman year, USC coach Lane Kiffin saw the need for Farmer at a position the university used to be celebrated for — tailback.
“He’s been playing quarterback, tailback and receiver, and we’ve actually been putting him at running back in individuals and he looks great there,” Kiffin said, after Farmer’s first practice at his new position. “[Having him make the switch] could be real exciting. It would give us a big, physical guy and one of the fastest guys in the country.”
As the weeks wore on, Farmer changed not only his jersey number, but the intensity level and swagger he played with. With each passing snap, the athleticism and speed (he finished second in the 100-meter dash at the 2010 California State Meet) so many praised him for coming out of Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., was put on display.
Though his progress was thwarted by a concussion and lower back injury during fall camp, as USC made its way into the bye week, Farmer was finally coming into his own.
“Coming here as a freshman, especially with all of the expectations, it took time for me to adjust,” Farmer said. “I feel like I have a feel for this position right now, but even with that, I still have to learn how to translate my instincts into what the coaches want me to do. I have a tendency to see the first gap and want to go right through it, instead of being patient and waiting for the play to develop around me. Like with everything else in football, that comes with time and experience.”
Heading into last Thursday’s game against Cal, the question still remained if Farmer would play against the Golden Bears, or if the USC coaching staff would hold off, opting to let the freshman work out all the kinks that come with making such a swift transition. Though the decision to let Farmer play didn’t necessarily translate to on-field success, the Los Angeles native is still wide-eyed about the experience.
“I started off a little nervous when I got called in that first series,” Farmer said. “But, I was ready for it, tried to do whatever I could. I loved the experience, but I am ready to get better from here on out.”
As USC gears up to play rival Notre Dame in its first night game in 21 years, the challenge for the novice tailback remains unquestionably tall. With the potential absence of senior tailback Marc Tyler, who dislocated his shoulder in the 30-9 win over Cal, Farmer might be called into action early and often Saturday night, a task he says he’s mentally, if not technically, ready for.
“From here on out, nerves won’t play a factor,” Farmer said. “Football is football. The field will be the same, the fans will be the same, the game will still be the same game. Right now, I’m just trying to get all of the technical things down because I can’t say I’m completely comfortable at the position just yet. It all depends on how long I prepare for it, how much time I put it to learning the nuances.”
Those nuances have made Farmer a film rat before and after practices the last few weeks, as he and running back coach Kennedy Polamalu attempt to speed up the freshman’s learning curve.
In addition to the film studies work he does inside Heritage Hall, Farmer has kept his eye on a certain running back at the next level.
“I look at Adrian Peterson, and his skill set and body type and it’s about where I am physically,” Farmer said. “But I want to be able to do all of the things he does. How he runs the ball, how he works his way around tackles. I’ll admit I try to imitate what he does.”
Though USC fans would be elated to have a true-to-life imitation of Peterson in the form of Farmer on Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium, Farmer cautions his transformation is still very much in the infant stages.
Though that might not be music to the ears of most Trojan supporters, Farmer insists he’s takinga methodical approach.
“[Tailback] is my position now and it’s important I take things day by day,” Farmer said. “While it took some adjusting to, it has finally sunk in though, I am a running back. What I do from here, we will just have to wait and see.”