Freshman TE McFarland looking to make impact

Published: Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:02 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:02 a.m.

When Mike McFarland sees a car with a Gators tag or looks at a T-shirt with Florida's logo on it, he can't help but smile and feel blessed.

The Tampa Blake tight end grew up moving from house to house with a mother hardly there and a father in and out of jail. He later lost his mother in high school but doesn't want pity. He wants people to look at what he's done as an individual and imagine what he can do with his future.

That future is with the Florida Gators, something McFarland never expected when he first grabbed a football.

As a sophomore, he watched his teammates get college letters inviting them to visit and attend summer camps. A jealous McFarland tried to stay patient, but frustration consumed him until he was called into his coach's office that same year.

Late to practice because of a doctor's appointment, McFarland was forced to run laps as his punishment. As he ran, he heard cheers. Confused, McFarland asked why people were excited, but no one spoke until he was told to go inside. That's where he saw his coach and a letter from from Boston College. It wasn't just a letter asking him to visit, it was a scholarship offer.

From there, McFarland says his work ethic changed, eventually earning him a scholarship from Florida.

"I fell out. I was like, 'What?' " McFarland said of how he reacted when he received his Florida offer.

On March 9, 2009, McFarland committed to Florida and never wavered.

"After I signed, I felt like this is where I'm supposed to be," he said. "I just can't wait to get out here and come play."

McFarland was approached by Florida's staff with a grayshirt after they felt he wouldn't be physically ready to compete this fall. His weight fluctuated between 240 and 220 pounds for most of the year. It didn't help that he played basketball, which caused him to lose close to 20 pounds each year.

Florida's coaches canceled the grayshirt soon after presenting it, and McFarland said that was when he started taking weight gain more seriously. At Christmas, he weighed around 225 pounds. With a strict diet, he's at 240 pounds with the hopes of getting to 245 before he reports in June. Not even basketball could disrupt his growth.

Basketball has helped his athleticism. McFarland recently won three high school dunk competitions — taking the Hillsborough County crown, the Hillsborough vs. Pinellas County contest and his high school's title. His signature dunk has even captivated YouTube nation.

"It was a classic," McFarland said. "I dunked on the phone."

McFarland put his cell phone in his sock and pulled it out at the free throw line. He pretended to get a call, saying, "Hello? What's up? Man, I'm in the middle of a dunk contest," as he dunked the basketball.

With his body type, McFarland said he'll be a speedy tight end in college. After visiting Florida's practice in March, McFarland said he's confident he can come in and compete for playing time.

"I'm the type of kid that feels like I can do this, I can take the starting position," he said. "I feel like I can come in here and make a huge impact on this football team.

"I believe I can be that Aaron Hernandez, speed guy that can make a little something happen when I get the football."

While his confidence is up, McFarland said he still considers himself truly blessed that he'll be calling Gainesville home.

"I'm not saying that I'm the best athlete in Tampa," he said. "There's so many other guys who could have had this opportunity, but they got me. I'm extremely blessed and proud. I'm a humble person and I thank God every day that I'm coming (to Florida)."

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