Enter the Dragon
This article appears in the September 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
DajLeon Farr will watch as many martial arts movies as you put in front of him. You want to make an evening of it? Fine. Wanna go for an all-night marathon? No problem. Bruce Lee flicks are his favorite.
Those mythical martial arts characters he loves — noble, humble and pure — would be proud of DajLeon (pronounced day-lee-on). After all, the North Shore senior tight end lives by certain down-to-earth rules of his own despite being the nation's best player at his position.
"I stay humble, and that's not hard — that's just me," says the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Farr, who is rated the nation's No. 1 tight end and No. 8 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com. "I don't brag or talk. That stuff is just not me. Even if there weren't all this attention, I'd still give it my best. I have the same drive no matter what the situation. I just want to get better every time I play."
The beauty there is that he does keep getting better. Farr played on the freshman team his first year and moved up to varsity as a sophomore, seeing plenty of snaps but not recording a reception in a run-based offense. Even as a junior, he made just seven catches for 165 yards and one touchdown — not exactly stats you'd expect from the top tight end in the country.
But numbers don't tell the whole story with Farr. The Mustangs rarely passed the ball last fall, employing a devastating rushing attack led by now-graduated quarterback Bobby Reid (Oklahoma State) and running back Justin McNeese (UTEP). However, North Shore 11th-year head coach David Aymond is quick to note that Farr played a key blocking role in an offense that churned out more than 4,000 yards rushing and outscored opponents 695-89 last year en route to a 15-0 record and the Class 5A Division I state title.
Farr, a preseason SchoolSports All-American, embodies what folks call a multi-tool talent. He's got athleticism, speed, size, power and a great pair of hands. He can block. He has football IQ. And he wants to win more than "Fear Factor" contestants want those disgusting bugs off of them.
The tight end position is beginning to enjoy a high profile at all levels of football. If you've got a good one, it means the running and passing games enjoy an added dimension of explosiveness. If you've got a lousy one, it's instantly evident: strong-side runs fizzle out quickly and obvious passing downs become a traffic jam of blanketed wide receivers and blitz packages.
But when a defense must contend with a decent tight end, oh, the possibilities become endless. Not unlike Farr's potential as a player.
"Unlike a lot of great players, he's not nearly reached his full potential," says Aymond, 58, the Touchdown Club of Houston's Coach of the Year in 2003. "He still has great upside. His body frame will allow him to get bigger, and he has a lot to learn technically. He can improve greatly, and he has the willingness to do so."
Farr, who will turn 18 on Oct. 5, is already mighty hard to handle. On plays where he's asked to block, he gets off the line so quickly that even blue-chip, speed-rushing defensive ends and linebackers can't slip him before he has his hands all over them. And on passing plays, he has the speed (4.5 in the 40-yard dash) to burn most linebackers and the strength (340-pound bench press) to outmuscle defensive backs.
Pardon the pun, but this kid is Farr ahead of the pack.
"You marvel at the way he can play," says Aymond. "He has the quickest first step of anyone I've ever seen at the position, and that allows him to gain leverage and a huge advantage over defenders up front. His speed allows him to get outside, and once he's there, he's a receiving threat."
This fall has all the makings of a breakout season for Farr, who will be asked to fill a much larger pass-catching role with Reid and McNeese now in college. The Mustangs return six players who started or logged considerable time last fall, including Farr's fellow first team All-District honoree Everett Edwards, a mammoth 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior offensive lineman.
Farr understands, however, it's the milestones he has ahead of him rather than in his rearview mirror that are most important.
"I already know playing at the next level is going to be a completely different thing," says Farr, who had not made any decisions about a collegiate destination entering this season but had already received offers from schools like LSU, Miami and Oklahoma. "Everyone is going to be bigger and faster, and that's just going to make me work harder. It's all about being in the league — about playing on Sundays — and I'm not intimidated by that challenge at all. I've been working hard all my life."
Farr's mythical martial arts heroes would be proud of him for another reason: He embraces the role of being a guy people look to for support and seek out for inspiration.
"He realizes he can't neglect his people skills," says Aymond. "He's very close to his mom and his football team. And he wants to win in the worst way. He's well-mannered, very positive and conducts himself with a lot of class."
Fair enough. But what about that old saying about nice guys finishing last?
One wonders whether Farr has the killer instinct to take him as far as he wants to go. To the league where he can play on Sundays. To a place where he can turn to his single-parent mom and his sisters Shanae, 13, and Chandra, 12, and assure them he's "the one in the family that helps them out financially."
Is there a necessary, not-so-nice side of DajLeon Farr, like every martial arts hero must possess?
"Getting in touch with that side on the field is part of the job," he says. "When it's time do what needs doing, that's not a problem."