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January 4, 2011
SAN ANTONIO - At an event filled with 100 of the best high school football players in the country George Farmer, a wide receiver from Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra stands out.
Simply because he plays three sports.
In an era when athletes are seemingly forced to pick a sport before they even enter high school, Farmer has continued to participate in football, basketball and track. And excel in all.
"God gave me the ability to play three sports," Farmer said. "I might as well use it."
Others don't feel the same way. The emphasis has been to concentrate on one sport - or fall behind on those who do.
Farmer, a USC commit who will participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, isn't buying it.
"I don't see it as an advantage or a disadvantage, it's just what I do," he said.
Besides, he offers, why does participating one sport mean you have to fall behind in others.
"I'm a receiver so I feel like I get a lot of my workout in basketball - using my legs to jump and using my hands to catch," he said. "And I work out all the time anyway. Lifting, doing pushups."
Farmer isn't the only athlete who feels diversity adds depth to his talents.
Former Southern Cal star and current NFL great Troy Polamalu was a three-sport star in high school. He said recently that he felt playing multiple sports as a kid was a key to his current success.
Polamalu was the epitome of the high school superstar at Winston (Ore.) Douglas, playing football, basketball and baseball. He was an all-state center fielder and made all-league in basketball, but football provided his calling. He played four years at USC before being selected with the 16th pick in the 2003 NFL draft.
"I feel that I am a worse athlete now than what I was in high school," he said. "Back then I was playing basketball and baseball as well, and I was much more well-rounded. Stopping playing those sports cost me a lot of fluidity of motion.
"But I am grateful that I had the opportunity to play all three to a good level all the way up until college. The different skill sets have helped to make me a better athlete, and it was definitely the best thing for my career."
Diversity hasn't hurt Farmer so far.
In his junior year, Farmer fell a split-second short of becoming the first athlete in California history to win state titles in three different seasons of the same school year. After helping his team to football and basketball titles, he took second in the state final in the 100.
His hopes of achieving it as a senior ended when Serra, which ended its season ranked No. 62 in the RivalsHigh 100, fell in its CIF bowl game.
Polamalu worries how this emphasis will hurt athletes in the future.
"It is unfortunate, but we are going to notice a great change over the next few years," he said. "I feel we are going to see serious alterations in the levels of athleticism.
"From an early age kids are being encouraged to focus on just one sport. That is fine, but I believe they are missing out on the chance to develop a wider core of all-round skills. What we will get is a tiny minority of outstanding athletes and a lot of bad athletes and not much in between."
Farmer, the top-ranked wide receiver and the No. 4 overall recruit in the country, hopes his success will set an example for younger athletes coming up.
"I'd tell them to follow your heart," he said. "Don't limit yourself.
"You just have to have a great work ethic to be able to do everything. If you can handle it, you should do it. Don't let anything hold you back."