Sunday, May 20, 2018
Colleges

Boost helps Bulls' McFarland overcome adversity

TAMPA — With one leap and an outstretched left hand, Mike McFarland altered the trajectory of both Cincinnati kicker Tony Miliano's field goal and USF's season.

A few seconds later, Nate Godwin scooped up the blocked kick and dashed down USF's sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. It kick-started a 26-20 Bulls triumph and the best night of McFarland's collegiate life.

"It feels amazing," the former Blake High blue-chipper said moments after the win.

"The coaches put me in a position to make a play, and I made it."

Somewhere in Citrus Park, Calvin Barrs grinned. From his celestial suite, Winston Davis might have also. Charles Smith probably beamed as did Sean Washington and Uncle George Ellis. His Bulls coaches and teammates sure as heck did. All with good reason.

Well before McFarland showed his hand Saturday, these patriarchs in the villages of his adolescence and young adulthood lent him one.

As a result, he's conquering the tragic one fate dealt him.

"He's had it tough," Barrs said. "And the most important thing is he had a good supporting cast around him."

Indeed, McFarland's journey to the epicenter of USF's inaugural 2013 victory was arduous.

There was a stopover in Gainesville followed by grief a few exits later. Along the way, he relinquished one full ride and caught another. His one living parent likely never will see him play for the Bulls in person.

Yet the 6-foot-5 tight end with the soft voice remains so driven, he texted coach Willie Taggart shortly before the Miami game, asking him to use a pass play McFarland liked. Against Cincinnati, the redshirt junior had a team-best four catches.

"I feel like I'm in a great place," he said.

The way McFarland sees it, it's the only place, ideal philosophically and geographically. After all, Taggart employs tight ends as liberally as McDonald's employs teenagers. Even if he didn't, McFarland still would be here.

Michael McFarland Sr., victim of two strokes, resides in a nursing home about a half-hour away in Plant City. After practice and study hall each Sunday, Mike drives to see the man with whom he has shared a profound yet complicated bond.

"Without my dad being here," McFarland said, "it just goes to show me that what family I do have is that much more important to me."

This is the paradox of Michael McFarland Jr. The kid with the fractured upbringing might have more de facto fathers and surrogate siblings than any teammate. Today, the Bulls represent the most stable family force in his life.

Before that, there was Barrs, not to mention a throng of other former Blake coaches such as Washington, Davis and Smith.

Rewind a half-decade or so. To that point, McFarland never had known a structured home. His mom, of whom he speaks little, died when he was in high school. The friction between him and his dad, a Vietnam War veteran with periodic jail stints, had grown insufferable.

Barrs, a veteran social worker who was then coaching junior varsity basketball at Blake, stood on the periphery and watched McFarland's various stages of anguish. Eventually, he invited the rangy teen to move into his Citrus Park home with his wife and young son.

"It was basically like, 'Whenever you feel like you're ready to come, just know that me and my family will be here with open arms,' " McFarland recalled.

Suddenly, McFarland had his own bedroom and a set of guidelines. He washed the dishes, did his own laundry and honored the Barrs' 10 p.m. curfew. When he needed a ride home from varsity football or basketball practice, a coach always seemed to come through.

"The goal was to get Mike stable and to get him through school and get him to college," Barrs said.

On the field, he flourished — in a variety of capacities. On a given night, McFarland would line up at quarterback, tight end, defensive end and punter for Blake. As a senior, his team went 1-9, but Scout.com ranked him the nation's No. 12 tight end.

He signed with Florida in February 2010 after orally committing months earlier and redshirted his first season. In 2011, coach Will Muschamp arrived with a more traditional pro-style offense. Michael Sr.'s first stroke arrived at roughly the same time.

"It was just crazy," McFarland recalled. "I used to think nothing could happen to my dad. He was like, 5-10 or 5-11, but he was jacked. Couldn't nobody touch my dad."

This is what some never understood. The resentment McFarland harbored toward his father coexisted with the love but never supplanted it. He wanted to be at his side. As a result, he transferred to USF as a walk-on and was granted a hardship waiver from the NCAA that allowed him to play right away.

Shortly after the Bulls broke preseason camp in August 2011, then-coach Skip Holtz summoned McFarland to his office and informed him he had earned a scholarship.

Two years later, he finds himself smack in the middle of a tight end-friendly offense. McFarland's eight receptions are three more than he had in his first two seasons at USF combined.

"That's the beauty for me," Taggart said; "just watching that kid grow up and get better from spring through training camp and to where he's at now and making those plays for us."

Mike tries to tell Michael Sr. about each of them. Sometimes, the elder McFarland will mumble. Other times, he'll stare. Mike knows he hears, and that's sufficient. He believes his dad understands what he's conveying — that he's in a great place.

Surrounded by family.

"I think he's pretty much on his way," Barrs said.

Comments
ACC football announces early kickoff times, TV info for FSU, Miami games

ACC football announces early kickoff times, TV info for FSU, Miami games

The ACC has released some kickoff and TV information for the first three weeks of the season:Week 1 (previously announced)Miami vs. LSU (in Arlington, Texas): Sunday, Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m., ABCVirginia Tech at Florida State: Monday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m., ESP...
Published: 05/18/18
Why FSU playing Boise State in Jacksonville is a smart risk

Why FSU playing Boise State in Jacksonville is a smart risk

Old, unofficial news is expected to become old, official news today with a formal announcement that Florida State and Boise State are kicking off the 2019 season in Jacksonville.  A lot has changed since the schools announced the series (FSU pla...
Published: 05/16/18
FSU-Boise State to open 2019 season in Jacksonville

FSU-Boise State to open 2019 season in Jacksonville

What had been an open secret for months is now open and shut: Group of Five power Boise State will face FSU at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville in the teams' 2019 opener.A formal announcement is expected Wednesday, but the '19 schedule on Boise's offi...
Published: 05/15/18
RHP Mark Moclair’s versatility proves valuable to University of Tampa

RHP Mark Moclair’s versatility proves valuable to University of Tampa

TAMPA — He’s the accidental pitcher who can’t be pigeonholed into a defined role. He’s a well-spoken economics major who morphs into fire-breathing intensity on the mound. And he’s one of the biggest reasons why the University of Tampa Spartans are p...
Published: 05/15/18
Police: Florida Gators recruit Justin Watkins kicked female’s car, broke her phone

Police: Florida Gators recruit Justin Watkins kicked female’s car, broke her phone

One of the Florida Gators' top incoming recruits was released from jail early Wednesday after police allege he kicked a female's car and broke her phone after an argument.Justin Watkins — a four-star athlete from Clermont — and ...
Published: 05/10/18
Why Gators’ Dan Mullen still name-drops his second grade teacher

Why Gators’ Dan Mullen still name-drops his second grade teacher

When first-year Gators coach Dan Mullen spoke to a packed crowd at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club this winter, he told stories about the stars Florida fans recognize instantly.Tim Tebow. Steve Spurrier. Percy Harvin.Then he name-dropped someone els...
Published: 05/10/18
Florida Gators coordinator Todd Grantham to earn $1.39 million. Here are the other salaries

Florida Gators coordinator Todd Grantham to earn $1.39 million. Here are the other salaries

New Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will be one of the highest paid assistants in the country, earning $1.39 million in base pay this year.The Gators released the contracts for Grantham and the rest of Dan Mullen's staff on Tuesday aftern...
Published: 05/08/18
Why Dan Mullen wants his Gators to hit every school in Florida

Why Dan Mullen wants his Gators to hit every school in Florida

As the Florida Gators hit the road for the spring evaluation period, coach Dan Mullen has a goal."It's really important for me that we try to get into every school in the state of Florida," Mullen said Monday before a speech to the Polk County Gator ...
Published: 05/08/18
Dan Mullen: Florida Gators not pursuing grad transfer quarterback ‘right now’

Dan Mullen: Florida Gators not pursuing grad transfer quarterback ‘right now’

LAKELAND – Despite some rumblings tying the Gators to Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow, Florida has no plans "right now" to pursue a graduate transfer at the position, first-year coach Dan Mullen said Monday evening."We're not really looking a...
Published: 05/07/18
Where do Bobby Bowden, Mike Martin rank among top coaching duos?

Where do Bobby Bowden, Mike Martin rank among top coaching duos?

Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin became the winningest coach in NCAA history over the weekend with an extra-innings victory over Clemson. His record: 1,976-708-4.Martin joins football legend Bobby Bowden as one of the Seminoles' top coaches e...
Published: 05/07/18