UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer, a trip home to the Rose Bowl game this year, marks a return trip to his hometown, which happens to be rooted just a few minutes from the historic Rose Bowl.
Flashing back a few months though, it didn't seem fathomable that the Nittany Lions would be destined for Pasadena, California.
"After that Michigan loss we came back, we looked at the tape and we saw the mistakes and we just kind of saw that we weren't playing together in all three phases - offense, defense and special teams, the chemistry was not clicking," Farmer said.
Farmer and the Nittany Lions got to work though, reshaping their mentality and revitalizing their approach, refusing to back down from a challenging Big Ten Conference slate.
"Eventually by the next game, all three phases were clicking and we got a win," Farmer said. "I think it's very important that all three phases have to connect and have chemistry together to win the game."
Among an evident shift in mentality and a spark in team chemistry, the Nittany Lions were back on track. For Farmer though, it also meant changing positions following Penn State's 34-27 win against Temple.
At dinner one evening, Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry mentioned that he needed to speak to Farmer about something.
"I said to him, yeah, but I already know what you're going to talk to me about," Farmer said, recalling his conversation with Pry. "I was all for it though, whatever I can help my team do to win."
Having already played linebacker, the transition came with ease for Farmer, as he settled in to a position that Penn State head coach James Franklin had already eyed him at.
"We think his best position long-term is at outside linebacker," Franklin said during the week leading up to the Michigan game, publicly announcing that Farmer would be making the move from safety.
For Farmer, it all came down to a sampling of qualities that are uniquely shared in both positions, qualities that he sees blended between both safeties and linebackers.
Joining the linebacker unit at a time when the group was as injury riddled as it had been all season, Farmer knew he could lean on experienced veterans to help guide the way.
"We just listened to the older guys who have more experience than us," Farmer said. "Myself, Brandon Smith, Cam Brown and Manny Bowen, we just kind of looked to Brandon Bell, Jason Cabinda and Nyeem [Wartman-White] for experienced advice, or things we couldn't see on the field and that's what helped all of us as a group grow as a unit."
Embracing every sense of the "next man up mentality," Farmer and the rest of the newly fashioned linebacker group grew stronger each day, helping the Nittany Lions string together win after win.
Following the loss at Michigan, Farmer stepped up for his first career tackle for loss in the win against Minnesota. The following week, he logged his first career sack, forcing a fumble on the same play.
In total, since making the move, Farmer has registered 4.5 tackles for loss with a sack in two of the last five games of the season, often rotating in to give the unit the right spark at just the right time.
Perhaps no sack was bigger than his most recent one though, which came in a crucial situation early in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.
"I was praying for a big play," Farmer said. "For the amount of times we were blitzing, I just kept thinking, I have to get through, I have to get one of them."
A surreal moment moment, recounted Farmer, noting the Bart Houston sack on one of the biggest stages, is a memory he'll have forever.
Making perhaps his biggest statement of the season, Farmer and the Nittany Lions completed an incredible comeback, topping Wisconsin 38-31 to win the Big Ten Championship.
The very next day, the Nittany Lions found out they would be headed to Pasadena, California for "The Granddaddy of Them All."
It was a special moment for Farmer, who instantly realized that a lifelong dream of his was about to come true. The Southern California native was returning home to his Rose Bowl roots.
Farmer grew up exactly 13 minutes away from the Rose Bowl stadium, located just outside Los Angeles in Pasadena.
"Growing up, my parents used to jog around the Rose Bowl stadium together, we would go to breakfast at the Rose Bowl restaurant," Farmer said.
Living so close to such a historic event, for Farmer, the iconic Rose Bowl is something that engulfs the entire community year in and year out.
"You can kind of hear the stadium noise from my house," Farmer said. "The community is always involved."
With the lifelong dream to one day play a collegiate football game inside the storied venue, it wasn't always an easy path for Farmer to make it across the country to Penn State - and then back again.
"It's hard to get recruited, especially in Southern California because of the competition, there are so many players," Farmer said.
Initially receiving interest from Vanderbilt among others, just a few weeks later, Farmer was then receiving interest from Penn State, following Franklin's move to Happy Valley.
"One week I saw black and gold and one week I saw blue and white," Farmer said, recalling a pair of home visits from some familiar faces.
When Farmer and his family arrived at Penn State for their official visit though, Farmer felt like all the pieces of the puzzle were coming together for the Nittany Lions, a perfect scenario which ended up securing the decision for Famer.
Just a year later though, the Rose Bowl was back on Farmer's mind.
"My mom texted coach Franklin a picture of the Rose Bowl because she was working out at the Rose Bowl one day," Farmer said. "My mom said to him, I believe that you can take us here. She texted him the same exact message again probably two years later and he said yeah, we're going, I love it."
Farmer's Rose Bowl roots now extend deeper than just family and his connection with the Nittany Lion coaching staff.
"A couple of my teammates come home with me every year and we always go to the Rose Bowl stadium because they are so fascinated with it, but it's normal for me, I've seen it thousands of times," Farmer said.
Every time he makes the trip with his Nittany Lions teammates, he takes a picture. Most recently it was Farmer, Mark Allen, Johnathan Thomas, Amani Oruwariye and Jason Cabinda who all gathered for a picture during his first season.
Together, they made a promise to get back to the Rose Bowl and in just a few short days, nearly all of them will see that promise come to fruition.
With his teammates around him, Farmer is ready to take on the Rose Bowl, revealing bits and pieces of his family and childhood experiences along the way.
"I feel like when I come to Penn State its kind
of like going to a different world for me, but when I see my teammates come
home with me its showing them my culture, the kind of things I do with my
family and where I came from," Farmer said. "For my whole team to come back and
see where I came from it's really cool, it's going to be a really fun trip."