Cedar City • On the recruiting trail after his first season at Southern Utah, coach Ed Lamb found himself checking out an undersized offensive lineman from Northridge High School whose best sport was baseball.
Only one college Dixie State had offered Gavin Farr a football scholarship to that point. But Lamb saw something in him that was in short supply at SUU, where he was trying to resuscitate the program.
"At the time, we needed fighters," Lamb said. "You never have enough guys like that and we saw tremendous fight in Gavin. He sold me convinced me that he was going to find a way to help us on the football field."
Five years and 50 pounds later, Farr has become one of the most decorated players in Southern Utah history. He's made four straight Great West and Big Sky all-conference teams, including a third-team selection this season.
"He's definitely made good on our initial impression," Lamb said.
At Northridge, Farr played four sports, although he was "an awful basketball player." He weighed 240 pounds and until late in his senior year believed baseball was his ticket to college, probably as a first baseman but possibly as a pitcher.
Farr talked to the coaches at Mesa (Colo.) State, Occidental, Whittier College and Redlands before abruptly deciding "... to see what I could to with football."
He ended up as a foundation player at SUU.
"The coaches here are more than great coaches," Farr said. "They are great people. I've grown a ton since I've been here."
Farr and the Thunderbirds face their greatest challenge Saturday, when they play Sam Houston State in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
The game is a second chance for Southern Utah, which seemed out of the postseason after a 20-10 loss to Northern Arizona last week.
"I thought I played my last game," Farr said. "Seeing everybody in the locker room everybody I was going to miss was sad. I honestly didn't think we'd get in."
During a mostly sleepless night, however, Farr had a premonition.
"Something inside of me said, 'It's not over, it's not over,'" he recalled. "I don't know why. It was just something positive that I couldn't figure out."
Farr was right. SUU received an at-large bid to the 24-team playoff.
"I turned on the selection show and, when they said our name, I started screaming," he said. "I woke up my roommates and I called my dad. ... It was probably the biggest bipolar moment of my life."
Southern Utah takes an 8-4 record into the game against Sam Houston, which is also 8-4 after two straight losses.
Unlike SUU, however, the Bearkats have plenty of playoff experience. They reached the FCS championship game in 2011 and 2012, losing twice to North Dakota State.
Farr calls Sam Houston "a great team. They definitely know how to handle themselves in the playoffs. ... They are big and fast. They have some big-time college transfers. It will be a challenge, but that's fine."
Southern Utah atSam Houston St.
O FCS playoffsSaturday, 1 p.m.
TV • ESPN3