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Penn State’s Koa Farmer’s battle for playing time with Micah Parsons has led the senior to reach his ‘full potential’

The Nittany Lions linebacker, who will make his 27th consecutive start Saturday against Maryland, has tutored celebrated freshman Micah Parsons, helping his backup earn more playing time.

Koa Farmer (center) has seen his playing time decrease as a result of helping fellow Californian Micah Parsons grow.
Koa Farmer (center) has seen his playing time decrease as a result of helping fellow Californian Micah Parsons grow.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

The perception is that linebacker Koa Farmer has been a little unlucky in his fifth year in the Penn State football program, even as he is about to extend his run of consecutive starts to 27 on Saturday against Maryland in the Nittany Lions' final regular-season game of 2018.

Farmer has seen his playing time reduced with the emergence of freshman Micah Parsons, one of the nation's top high school recruits, who was moved from defensive end to middle linebacker in the spring before settling in as Farmer's backup on the weak side.

The only Californian on the Penn State roster, Farmer admits the decreased time on the field has been tough, but he has decided to consider the positive side.

"I look at it as a blessing, because Micah pushed me to be the best linebacker I could become," he said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. "If Micah wasn't there, I could have been working harder. I could have been reaching my full potential. But playing with Micah really drove me.

"If he wasn't here, and I was content with my spot, I don't know how much better I would be. But him being behind me, or playing with me, is truly a blessing."

Parsons is the Lions' top tackler. Head coach James Franklin credits Farmer for his unselfishness in helping with Parsons' development.

"I think Koa has done a great job in leading Micah since he showed up on campus and teaching Micah," Franklin said. "Koa has handled everything extremely well. I think it's been a real positive situation, because Koa has earned the right to play and do what he's been doing, and it's allowed [us] to kind of slowly work Micah into a new position and kind of figure it out.

"Koa has been fantastic. He's been one of our leaders off the field, really, from very early on. He's one of our leaders on the field."

Safety Nick Scott, who came in with Farmer in Franklin's first Penn State recruiting class in 2014, said Farmer has blocked out all the hype surrounding Parsons.

"He's been a tremendous resource to Micah and helping Micah out," Scott said. "You could see Koa is constantly coaching him up and trying to make Micah better, because Koa cares a lot about this team and this team in the future."

Farmer has been moved around with the Nittany Lions. He came east as a safety, returned kickoffs his redshirt freshman year, moved to linebacker early in 2016 because of injuries at the position, and switched over from strong side to weak side before this season.

Franklin recruited Farmer for Vanderbilt. After the coach changed jobs, he convinced Farmer to visit Penn State. The family flew from California to Philadelphia, where their flight to State College was canceled because of nine inches of snow, so they rented a car and drove to Central Pennsylvania.

"I was like, 'There's no way in heck we're getting this kid,' " Franklin said.

Farmer will leave Penn State with degrees in criminology and sociology. He said he is proud of what he achieved on the football field, "a guy that was unselfish, did whatever [was] needed to help his team win.

"Looking back at it a year from now, I wouldn't change anything, because I met my best friends here," he said. "I played in a childhood dream, playing in the Rose Bowl. I played in the Fiesta Bowl. I played in the Big Ten championship. I had a great career here. I wouldn't change it for the world."