Thursday, January 18, 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
Gary Trent, Duke rally past Miami with 18-0 run

Gary Trent, Duke rally past Miami with 18-0 run

CORAL GABLES — Gary Trent scored a season-high 30 and No. 5 Duke needed less than three minutes to erase a 13-point second-half deficit, scoring 18 consecutive points to overtake No. 25 Miami 83-75 on Monday night. The Blue Devils scored 15 in six po...
Published: 01/15/18

Shrine Game journal: Homecoming for Utah OL Salesi Uhatafe; Quinton Flowers works on snaps

ST. PETERSBURG — Salesi Uhatafe is back in his hometown, and though he moved to Texas when he was still a baby, it’s very much a homecoming as the former Utah offensive lineman plays in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field."I’ll probab...
Published: 01/15/18
Iowa State’s two-way star Joel Lanning practicing at linebacker for East-West Shrine Game

Iowa State’s two-way star Joel Lanning practicing at linebacker for East-West Shrine Game

ST. PETERSBURG — Joel Lanning has the unique distinction of being listed as an "LB/QB" on the West roster for Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.And while the former Iowa State star spent the entire practice at middle linebacker Mond...
Published: 01/15/18
Keith Jackson, leading college football broadcaster, dies at 89

Keith Jackson, leading college football broadcaster, dies at 89

Keith Jackson, the folksy voice of college football who for decades weaved backwoods wit through Saturday afternoon ABC broadcasts, died Friday night. He was 89.In a 52-year broadcasting career, Mr. Jackson covered a wide variety of sports for radio ...
Published: 01/13/18
No. 24 FSU outlasts Syracuse in double overtime

No. 24 FSU outlasts Syracuse in double overtime

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State squandered a double-digit halftime lead for the second straight game. This time, it was able to overcome that.The 23rd-ranked Seminoles scored the first six in the second overtime to propel them to a 101-90 victory over Sy...
Published: 01/13/18

Florida manhandled in paint by Ole Miss for first SEC loss

OXFORD, Miss. — Florida came into its matchup focused on stopping a talented group of Ole Miss guards.But it was the play of the frontcourt that did in the Gators on Saturday afternoon.Bruce Stevens scored 22, Deandre Burnett added 20 and Mississippi...
Published: 01/13/18
South Carolina gives Will Muschamp new $28 million deal

South Carolina gives Will Muschamp new $28 million deal

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Will Muschamp received a new six-year, $28.2 million contract after a nine-win season that culminated with a victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Muschamp’s contract was approved Friday by the school’s boar...
Published: 01/12/18
Jones: March Madness is weeks away. What’s up with college basketball?

Jones: March Madness is weeks away. What’s up with college basketball?

We’ve been a little busy lately.What with Dirk Koetter staying and Evan Longoria going. We’ve been distracted by UCF and amazed by Alabama. There has been Jon Gruden news and what is shaping up to be a very special season for the Lightning.With all t...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18
Bobby Bowden: Dadgum it, UCF has a gripe

Bobby Bowden: Dadgum it, UCF has a gripe

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is 88 and still keeps a busy schedule of speaking engagements. On Wednesday he was in Omaha, Neb. — his fourth city in a week — to receive the Tom Osborne Legacy Award for his contributions to college football ...
Published: 01/11/18
Jones: The secret to Alabama’s success

Jones: The secret to Alabama’s success

Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach of all-time.The current Alabama run — five titles in nine seasons — belongs at the top of any dynasty in the history of the sport. To do what Bama has done in this day and age of parity is remarkableS...
Published: 01/09/18