At last Danny Farmer confesses to what others have long known
about him. "I'm addicted," he says, sitting in a UCLA campus
courtyard, where winter sunshine filters through eucalyptus
trees. "I've been doing it for four years, and now I don't even
think about it anymore. I just keep going out and doing it."
This is an article from the April 12, 1999 issue
Farmer craves year-round action. He's an All-Pac-10 wide
receiver who mixes the crushing, year-round demands of big-time
football with his January-to-May role as a starting quick hitter
for the UCLA volleyball team, which he has helped win two
national championships. The combination makes him one of the
most accomplished two-sport college athletes in the country and
also one sick puppy. Consider a typical winter day: Predawn
football puke drills are followed by classes (as a history major
with a 3.0 GPA, he's Pac-10 All-Academic too), volleyball
practice and evening football passing drills. Yet even this
regimen isn't sufficiently active for Farmer. "If I played one
sport, I wouldn't be getting the most out of what I've been
given," says Farmer. "Two sports really aren't enough."
Family and friends commiserate over his athletic dependence. "We
worry that he overdoes things," says his mother, Christy.
"He treats college like he's still in high school," says Cade
McNown, UCLA's quarterback the past four years. "Sometimes we
have to save him from himself," says strength coach Mike Lynn.
During a recent volleyball match, Farmer seems about to expire
on the floor of Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins, in pursuit of their
18th NCAA title in 30 years, have just lost a three-hour,
five-game match to Long Beach State, in the process setting a
UCLA record for consecutive losses in men's volleyball (four)
that owes largely to the absence of All-America Adam Naeve
(sprained ankle) and co-captain Fred Robins (flu). Farmer is
sitting on the Pauley floor with mammoth ice bags strapped to
the front and back of his right (hitting) shoulder, and with
just plain bags under his blue eyes. His plan is to eat quickly,
sleep about five hours and work out with his football teammates
at 6:30 the next morning. The loss hasn't changed these plans;
it has reinforced them. "Now, after this, I'm definitely going
to the morning workout," Farmer says.
Later that night reason prevails. Bruins volleyball coach Al
Scates and Lynn conspire to perform an intervention on the
addict, as they occasionally do. Both leave messages on Farmer's
voice mail to this effect: Sleep in; rest. Farmer grudgingly
complies. "My body was happy," he says the next afternoon, "but
I was pissed."
In truth Farmer isn't sick at all; he's just a 21-year-old with
more toys than time and no off switch. One evening last December,
when UCLA still was unbeaten in football and in contention for
the national championship, the 6'4", 210-pound Farmer sat on a
stool in a Mexican restaurant near campus. Everything moved. His
feet churned furiously to some silent rhythm, his shoulders
rolled from side to side like waves curling ashore, and his eyes
flitted about like the red dot from a 13-year-old's new laser
pointer. It's easy to see why defensive backs have such
difficulty covering Farmer. A guy who has this many moves over a
plate of nachos must be hell in the open field. "You want some
salsa?" Farmer asked, jumping up to get some and then sitting
back down. "Something to drink?" Up and down again.
Business as usual. "I've been around the guy since, well, the
womb, and he just has a motor that won't stop," says Danny's
twin brother, Tim, a senior volleyball player at Loyola
Marymount. "He doesn't eat much, doesn't sleep much and never
slows down. He's the only guy I know who can't even go to the
beach and just hang."
Danny can't hang a national championship football banner,
either, because four days after his hyperkinetic Tex-Mex dinner,
Miami stunned the Bruins 49-45, ruining their perfect season and
giving Farmer a sour memory that he expects will stay with him,
roughly, forever. Never mind that he caught six passes for 135
yards and two touchdowns in the defeat, part of a brilliant
junior season in which he had 51 receptions for 1,132 yards and
moved within range of UCLA's career records in both categories.
After the Bruins' subsequent Rose Bowl loss to Wisconsin, Farmer
briefly considered leaving for the NFL.Rumors were flying that
UCLA coach Bob Toledo might be going to the pros, and McNown and
three fifths of the offensive line would not be returning. Danny
probably would have been drafted high in the third round, but
scouts told his father, George, a former receiver with the
Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions, that a good senior season
could move Danny up considerably. "But the biggest thing," says
Danny, "is that I love it here. I don't want to leave."
Five days after the Rose Bowl, still nursing a sore heel
sustained in that game, Farmer showed up at volleyball practice.
Through Sunday, he had started all 23 of UCLA's matches this
season and led the Bruins with a .433 hitting percentage. UCLA,
healthy again, has rebounded from its midseason slide to amass a
17-6 record and will be among the favorites to win the NCAA
title in early May at Pauley. Farmer will continue to attend
some football workouts--"I feel like I should be there," he
says--but will skip most of spring practice because it takes
place during the stretch run of the volleyball season, and the
practices overlap volleyball workouts.
Football and volleyball is an odd double. Scates has been UCLA's
coach for 37 years and only once before had a football player on
his team. That was in 1965. Farmer not only doesn't think it's
an oddity but also sometimes merges the two sports. In the first
quarter of UCLA's 34-17 victory over USC last November, Farmer
used his 38-inch vertical leap to take a ball from 5'11"
cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. As they fell, McCutcheon pinned
Farmer's elbows to his side, loosening the ball. Farmer
awkwardly put his fists together and punched the ball back
toward his chest, where he cradled it as he landed, completing a
42-yard gain. Fans at the Rose Bowl and television viewers saw a
circus catch. Scates saw a dig. "That was volleyball right
there," he says. "Bob Toledo owes me."
Astonishing as it now seems, Farmer almost played neither sport
in college. In his senior year at L.A.'s Loyola High, he was a
good receiver on a ground-oriented football team as well as a
solid contributor in basketball and the California Division I
volleyball player of the year. Yet most recruiters thought he
was too slow for football and too short for volleyball.
Complicating the issue, Farmer wasn't settling for a scholarship
to play just one sport; he wanted to play both. Only Cal showed
interest, and the Bears had only a club volleyball program. No
Neither UCLA nor USC would take a flier on Farmer, even though
his family tree is virtually painted blue, cardinal and gold.
His father was a star wideout for the Bruins from 1967 to 1969
and also played basketball on the Lew Alcindor-led 1969 national
championship basketball team before going on to a six-year NFL
career. His mother is also a UCLA graduate. Her father, Steve
Miletich, played basketball at USC, and Danny's uncle, Dave
Farmer, played football for the Trojans. "I went to [then Bruins
football coach] Terry Donahue and told him, 'This kid can play
for you,'" says George. "Terry said, 'Fine, I'll give him a
chance. He can walk-on.'"
UCLA offered an 11th-hour partial volleyball scholarship, but
because Farmer intended to walk-on in football, he turned it
down. (The NCAA has a rule against athletes accepting
scholarships in one sport and then also playing football, a
safeguard against teams' circumventing football scholarship
limitations by offering swimming grants to defensive linemen.)
Farmer arrived on campus--five miles from his house in the
upscale Los Angeles neighborhood of Hancock Park--for football
practice in the fall of 1995 without a scholarship of any kind.
He made a brief splash during team physicals. "They were
measuring body-fat percentage," says Bruins All-America
offensive tackle Kris Farris, who was also an incoming freshman,
"and it's like, 'Twelve percent, 20 percent, 17 percent....'
Then Danny comes up and the guy says, 'Three-point-seven
percent.' I said, 'Oh, my gosh, who is that guy?'" The
eye-opening body-fat number was good for nothing more than a
redshirt and a spot on the scout team.
Disappointment was a new emotion for Farmer. He had grown up in
a nurturing household that thrived on practical lessons and not
on chasing sports glory. "I told Danny from the start, 'Your
athletic ability is a freak of genetics, but the most important
thing is your character,'" says Christy.
George never pushed football. In fact, Danny can never recall
even tossing a football with his father, for which he is deeply
grateful. "I know he wanted to play catch, I know he wanted to
push me, because I had ability," says Danny. "But he didn't. He
let me find football myself, and that was hard for him. But it
was the great for me, because I developed my own love for the
Even as a redshirt, Farmer rapidly improved on the field,
regularly tearing up the first-team defense. "The defense had
all these great players, like Donnie Edwards [now with the
Kansas City Chiefs] and Tommy Bennett [Arizona Cardinals], and
by the end of the year they were begging the coaches to play
Danny in the Aloha Bowl," says Farris. Bob Field, then UCLA's
defensive coordinator, whose first unit practiced against
Farmer, says, "We had some big trouble covering him. By the end
of the year, it was obvious he was not only going to get a
scholarship, but he was going to be a big-time player."
In the fall of 1996, his first as head coach, Toledo put Farmer
on scholarship, and Farmer thanked him by becoming the first
freshman to lead the Bruins in receptions, with 31. Farmer's
play thrust him into the public eye, but he was saddled with the
usual stereotypes, which have persisted, and he saw them coming
again during the interviews for this article. "This isn't going
to be another 'Ed McCaffrey, tall white guy' story, is it?" he
asks. "Because I hate those stories." The answer is yes and no.
McCutcheon describes Farmer as "a lot like Ed McCaffrey."
Washington State outside linebackers coach Jim Zeches says, "He
sort of reminds you of Ed McCaffrey." The reasons are simple:
Like McCaffrey, the Denver Broncos' Pro Bowl wideout, Farmer is
tall, strong, crafty, productive and Caucasian. Defensive backs
taunt him from whistle to whistle. Examples:
"You're too white."
"You don't belong out here."
"Go back to volleyball."
Farmer is mute in response. "He's not going to trash-talk you,"
says Oregon cornerback Eric Edwards.
He is, however, going to trash you, with precise routes, sure
hands and, yes, spectacular athleticism. He certainly has decent
speed, although he says he hasn't been timed in the 40 since
high school and doesn't remember what he ran then. "Just don't
say he's got deceptive speed," says brother Tim. "He's fast,
This isn't news to McNown. "I played in the Senior Bowl," he
says. "I worked out for a week with lots of receivers who are
going to be drafted, like [Louisiana Tech's] Troy Edwards and
Peerless Price [of Tennessee], and Farmer is better than any of
To measure athleticism, think volleyball. Scates has produced 48
All-Americas and 13 Olympians, and he at first doubted that
Farmer could play quick hitter (also called middle blocker), a
position dominated by men 6'8" or taller at the college level.
"I thought he was too short," says Scates. But Farmer's
explosiveness left taller men shell-shocked on the other side of
the net. "He's so fast in the first 10 feet [to the net] that he
just blows [the ball] by the other team's middle blockers," says
Scates, who played Farmer in 11 matches as a freshman. "Plus
he's got about the quickest arm swing I've ever seen."
Farmer's power produces legendary kills. "He had one last year
at Stanford that bounced off the floor and up into the girders,"
says UCLA junior setter Brandon Taliaferro. In the semifinals of
last year's NCAA tournament the Bruins were trailing Lewis
University of Romeoville, Ill., 9-7 in the second game, when
Scates inserted Farmer. UCLA ran off 19 consecutive points. "He
won the match single-handedly," says Pepperdine coach Marv
Dunphy, whose team lost to the Bruins in the final.
Football, however, is Farmer's future. To attempt volleyball at
the international level he would have to move to outside hitter,
where height is less crucial. Beach volleyball, in which
all-around skill is more useful than height, is another matter.
"I'd love to play on the beach someday," says Danny. "Me and my
Farmer's day of rest is nearly finished. He slept late and
skipped the football workout, as told. Now volleyball practice
is over, and he strolls across the UCLA campus in twilight. He
stops at the trainer's room, where more ice is applied to his
shoulder, and then he walks past the football practice field and
up to the third level of the parking garage that abuts it. On
the grass below, wideouts and quarterbacks are drilling for a
distant autumn. Farmer abstains, a sports junkie staying clean
for the moment.
most out of what I've been given," says Farmer.
Scates, who has coached 48 All-Americas at UCLA.