Tom Farniok: A blueprint for maximizing potential


 AMES — The lukewarm words filled a computer screen, under the heading, “Tom Farniok.”

 The then-sophomore Iowa State offensive lineman had successfully pulled up his recruiting profile and his eyes — and smile — widened as he read.

 “It said something like, ‘Could turn into a good reserve guy as a redshirt junior and potentially play as a senior,’” the Cyclones’ senior center, now an NFL prospect, recalled. “So I think I overshot that by a little bit.”


 Farniok — who earned honorable mention all-Big 12 honors for the third time — started his 47th and final game for ISU recent 55-3 loss to Texas Christian.

 After the setback, the 6-4, 301-pounder fought to keep emotions in check while addressing the media as a career marked by a rush-the-field upset in 2011 collided with a back-end blowout in 2014.

 “It is what it is,” the once-somewhat lanky, 6-3, 260-pound recruit who could count his FBS scholarship offers on one finger essentially said. 

 But the now 6-4, 301-pound Farniok’s underdog-based legacy remains — and current and future Cyclones would be wise to study and follow it.

 Those five words: “It is what it is,” could be mistaken for coach speak, or a cop out.

 For Farniok, it’s neither of those things. He sees what you see. He feels the pain much more than you do. He can serve as perhaps the best example moving forward for what it means to scoff at naysayers and maximize one’s own potential in the process of rebuilding a person or a program.

 In short, “fear” is not part of his vocabulary — and confidence comes strictly from upbringing. 

 “I had a bunch of (FCS offers) but no (FBS) ones recruited South Dakota,” said Farniok, who figures to be a late-round NFL Draft choice or undrafted free agent. “I was the first person since Riley Reiff (of the Detroit Lions) and he was the first person since (the Minnesota Vikings’ Chad) Greenway. He played in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota. No one recruits South Dakota and there were a couple of schools that told me, when I went to summer camps, ‘If we would have known who you were we would have offered you.’ That’s the way the ball rolls. I’m glad they took a shot at me here.”

 They took a shot? Ends up being the other way around. 

 NFL scouts eventually discover what college recruiters often don’t — and that’s pro talent in the Dakotas.

 North Dakota State, which thumped ISU in the 2014 season opener, has won the past three FCS titles. South Dakota State recently pushed the Bison to the brink in the second round of the FCS playoffs before falling, 27-24.  So Farniok could have stayed closer to home while dreaming just as big long-term. 

 Iowa-based examples also abound of small college athletes (including UNI’s Kurt Warner and Bryce Paup, Coe’s Fred Jackson and Drake’s Billy Cundiff, among others) reaching the “big time” despite playing under less-than-bright lights in college.

 Farniok, however, chose to go big sooner — as in the Big 12, even though few believed he could hack it at that level.

 “(An) overachiever, a hard worker, never gave into the pain and all of that,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said while describing Farniok.

 Rhoads summed up Farniok’s senior day moment before a 13-point loss to West Virginia as thus:

 “I remember Tom Farniok throwing up in the tunnel,” Rhoads said.


 “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, because it made me smile,” Rhoads added.

 This season could have used a lot more grins — and wins, obviously. But little victories, based on big “overachievers” should count for a lot in the future.

If others follow the lead of the lightly-recruited and now NFLPA Collegiate Bowl-bound Farniok, they could be able to recount a version of what he said below, about the shocking 2011 double-overtime win over Oklahoma State and one of the most exciting Cy-Hawk series wins in history:

 “I can really remember exactly what happened.” Farniok said of the Jeff Woody-finished drive that ended the program’s signature triumph. “Everyone’s got moments you say you’ll never forget. That’s one of those, along with Iowa my freshman year when James White crossed the goal line (in triple overtime).”

 Fond memories can fuel progress if those in line to contribute appreciate and build off them — on a personal and team level.

  The shadow cast by Farniok could help usher back in a bowl-based renaissance, as long as enough sparks follow in his wake.

 Long shot, perhaps — but who foretold a gangly 6-3, 260-pound center turning into a pro prospect?

 Rhoads, with a roll of the dice, maybe, but few others.

 “There was no question he was tough,” Rhoads said. “He was going to fight. He was going to be a competitor. You couldn’t have a full grasp on the intelligence level that he had, which went above expectations. But for Tom to be an under-recruited guy from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and coming into this league and being a four-year starter, remarkable and a credit to him.”

 So current and future Cyclones, take note. Guys like Farniok don’t come around often, but they should.

 Just don’t put too much stock in early recruiting profiles. They don’t fully account for heart. 

“I actually asked and went and looked at it," Farniok said of that sophomore year skimming of his initial profile. "And I was just like, ‘Haha, it’s kind of funny,’ because (former offensive line) coach (Bill) Bliel had actually said to me a few days before, ‘Yeah, you’ve been a decent surprise.’ He said it obviously in a very positive way — I love him. Then I figured I probably should go see what the actual plan was or what was actually thought, becuase everyone has expectations coming in here from the coaches and all that. Some of them are real high and they fall short. Some of them are real low and they go way high, so it’s kind of funny to see how some of the things pan out.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.