Farmer rekindles football career at Southeast

Wednesday, August 6, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Facilities Management painter Joe Starke turned the goal posts yellow during the first day of football practice Tuesday morning, August 5, 2008, at Houck Stadium.

At 6 foot 7 and a muscular 240 pounds — to go along with impressive speed, quickness and agility — Ashton Farmer looks the part of a football player.

Over the next few weeks, Southeast Missouri State coaches will try to learn if Farmer fits the part.

Although he has been away from the sport for almost four years, Farmer believes he has what it takes to make a successful return.

"I worked out all summer here, lifting, running, catching passes," Farmer said. "I'm ready and I think I can help."

Farmer, a 2005 Charleston High School graduate, was best known during his prep days as a basketball player for the tradition-rich Bluejays.

Playing for his father Danny, Farmer averaged 19.2 points as a Charleston senior and was rated among the state's premier recruits. He accepted a basketball scholarship to Arkansas State.

After redshirting as a freshman, Farmer played for the Division I university in Jonesboro the next two seasons.

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Senior Kendall Magana sped through on a punt blocking drill Tuesday morning, August 5, 2008, at Houck Stadium during the first day of practice for the football team.

Farmer averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds per game two years ago, then made four starts while averaging 1.7 points and 2.3 rebounds this past season.

Farmer said he never lost confidence in his basketball skills despite his limited production, but was looking for a change.

"I was never really happy down there," he said. "I decided to give it [basketball] up and give football a try."

The natural fit, he deduced, was Southeast, partly because it's a short drive from his hometown and partly because he would be eligible immediately for the Division I-AA Redhawks.

ABOVE: Southeast Missouri State senior Kendall Magana sped through on a punt-blocking drill. LEFT: Quarterbacks practiced moving up in the pocket. BELOW: Facilities management painter Joe Starke applied yellow to the goal posts.

Even though Farmer never played football at Arkansas State, since that university fields a Division I-A team, he would have had to sit out a year if he had transferred to another I-A squad.

"I'm glad to be here," Farmer said.

Farmer played only two seasons of high school football. As a senior in 2004, he caught 39 passes for 658 yards and five touchdowns.

While it would be hard to predict that type of success during his rookie campaign at Southeast, Farmer appears to have the athletic tools.

A player ran through a receiving drill during Tuesday's practice.

"He looks the part, but he hasn't played in a while," said Southeast coach Tony Samuel, whose squad held its first practice of fall camp Tuesday, but won't work out in full pads until Friday.

Farmer, a junior in eligibility, acknowledges that it could take him a while to get used to football again, although he said the physical aspect of things should be no problem.

"Hitting, I'm used to it. I don't mind it. Basketball is pretty physical," he said. "I think it's the game speed. It's a lot faster than in high school.

"With my body and athletic ability, I feel like I have a big upside."

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Junior Brad Stewart went up for a catch during a receivers drill Tuesday morning at Houck Stadium during the first day of practice for the Southeast Missouri State football team.

Senior quarterback Houston Lillard said he already has seen that upside and believes Farmer will readjust quickly to football.

Farmer and Lillard were two of about 60 Southeast players who stayed in Cape Girardeau over the summer to work out together. Farmer said Lillard threw him plenty of passes and generally showed him the ropes.

"He had me under his wings," Farmer said.

Asked about the potential impact Farmer might have, Lillard's eyes lit up.

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Facilities Management painter Joe Starke turned the goal posts yellow during the first day of football practice Tuesday morning, August 5, 2008, at Houck Stadium.

"I like Ashton," Lillard said. "He's a big target, he can run. He's going to be a real good producer for this offense."

Since the Redhawks have a young and inexperienced group of tight ends, there does appear to be every opportunity for Farmer to compete for a starting spot this season.

Sophomore Bradley Brown, listed as the starter entering fall camp, caught one pass for nine yards in limited action last year. No other tight end on the current roster had a reception in 2007.

"My goal is to be the starter, or at least get valuable minutes," said Farmer, who ranked sixth in his high school graduating class with a 3.9 grade-point average. "But mainly, I want to help the team get wins."

Finally, for the question Farmer is bound to get asked: Would he consider a return to basketball, as perhaps a two-sport athlete at Southeast?

While Farmer would not be eligible to play basketball for the Redhawks this season because of his transfer, he would have one more year of hoops eligibility remaining next year.

But Farmer shook his head emphatically as he quickly quelled those thoughts.

"I think I'll stick to football," he said. "I've pretty much given basketball up."

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