Koa Farmer likened his green ti leaf lei to a “good luck shirt” other players might wear.
His mom makes a different one every week and sends it to him.
The California native wears it under his pads during games, and he wore it during interviews with the media after making his first career start Saturday.
“It kind of keeps like the bad spirits away,” Farmer said.
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Wearing his “good luck” lei, Farmer turned in a productive performance at linebacker for Penn State in a 38-14 win over Maryland at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Farmer finished with five tackles, recorded his first career sack and forced a fumble.
Farmer made the switch from safety after the linebacking corps was hit hard by injuries. Nyeem Wartman-White is out for the season, and fellow starters Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda remained out due to injury Saturday. With Jake Cooper, who has started two games this season, also out, Farmer stepped in at linebacker against the Terrapins.
“I’m happy for him, and I’m happy for our defense and our team,” Penn State coach James Franklin said, “because Koa’s been kind of like a man without a home since he’s been here – high school running back and wildcat quarterback, played a little safety as well, probably more of an offensive-minded player when he first got here.”
Farmer redshirted his freshman year and saw time as a kickoff returner last season.
Franklin said Farmer’s talent has always been apparent.
But the coaching staff had to find a “home” for him on defense.
Farmer said Saturday was the first time he’s felt comfortable.
“When you get thrown out there, you want to be in the flow of the game,” Farmer said. “... That was kind of like my thing.”
Once he got comfortable, he said he could play fast and physical.
And Franklin and his teammates know what he can do with his speed.
“Koa’s a really fast guy, he’s the fastest linebacker that’s played here in a while I think,” said Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith, who led the team with 14 tackles. “He really uses that to his advantage.”
Farmer flew into the backfield to make a highlight-reel play in the first half.
After Maryland blocked a punt and took over at the 15-yard line, Farmer got the ball back for his team. He went unblocked during a blitz on first down, and Maryland quarterback Perry Hills never saw Farmer coming.
“That’s literally the best moment right there,” Farmer said. “My eyes just got big. I’m like, please don’t throw this.”
Farmer hammered Hills before he even thought about throwing, knocking the ball loose for a fumble recovered by Penn State’s Torrence Brown.
Farmer’s sack and forced fumble protected his team’s 17-7 lead with less than four minutes left in the second quarter.
And Farmer went “crazy” after the big hit.
“I almost lost my mind,” Farmer said. “I mean I almost took off my helmet on the field. I would have got a penalty. But I took it off when I got to the sideline.”
Farmer said it hasn’t been hard to move to linebacker.
He said he knows he can improve, pointing out his missed tackles after the game.
But the redshirt sophomore appears to have finally found a home contributing for the Nittany Lions after his first start.
Said Farmer: “It’s a blessing.”