M.J. McFarland didn’t need to think about it long. He’s facing an uphill battle to continue his football career in the NFL.
The former University of Texas tight end didn’t put up eye-popping numbers in his three playing seasons with the Longhorns, and then didn’t get on the field last season after transferring to UT El Paso because he tested positive for a substance banned by the NCAA after joining the Miners.
But that hasn’t deterred him from trying to extend his playing days, and he’s been working out daily since September at the Michael Johnson Performance facilities. He’s hoping to get himself back on the radar later this month when he works out for NFL scouts.
“That’s why I’m here every day, working out and training,” McFarland said last month as most of his MJP Combine classmates prepared for the Combine. “I’m waiting for my opportunity to come and to be able to showcase my talent.”
Sitting out a season is an obstacle McFarland must overcome, as many draft analysts and scouts might have forgotten about him. The performance-enhancing drug link also could scare away some teams.
Everybody, from McFarland to former Olympic champion Michael Johnson, knows it.
“It’s a challenge that we welcome,” Johnson said. “Obviously, with M.J., he’s got a challenge that some of these other guys don’t have where he’s fallen off some of the scouts’ radars. So he’s got to go to his Pro Day, and he’s got to really show them something that makes them go back and say, ‘Let’s go look at this guy’s game tape again.’
“The challenge for us is to take that one last opportunity, which is their Pro Day, to go out there and show the scouts something that gets their attention. That’s what we’re going to be doing hopefully with M.J.”
McFarland isn’t shy in discussing the PED matter. He maintains that he unknowingly took an over-the-counter product that contained banned substances.
McFarland appealed the suspension, going as far as hiring an attorney, but to no avail. The NCAA showed no leniency in cutting him a break, something that still baffles him to this day.
“It was an extremely simple mistake,” McFarland said. “There is nothing in the world I would jeopardize my last year, especially my senior year, so I was devastated when I got the news. I did everything I could to appeal it, got doctors’ notes, talked to an attorney … I was trying to do everything I could. Unfortunately, the NCAA denied my appeal and I don’t understand why.
“They didn’t budge. That upset me a lot; that hurt me a lot.”
With that, McFarland missed his senior season and a full season of possible game tape. It has hindered his ambitions for a professional career, but he’s come to view it as a positive in the long run.
“I have nothing to hide,” McFarland said. “I’ll just come straightforward and let the world know who the real M.J. McFarland is. It hurt me as a person not playing this year. There were some crying nights, just watching my teammates get out there and play. I wish I could have been there with them.
“But it did make me a smarter person, made me a stronger person. So I’m thankful for that.”
Those who know McFarland also vouch for his character. Dallas Cowboys tight end Geoff Swaim, who played two seasons with McFarland at UT, expressed disappointment at McFarland’s plight.
Swaim has “no doubt” that McFarland has the skill set to make in the NFL, and just hopes that teams are able to see that, too.
Swaim and McFarland were afterthoughts in the Longhorns’ passing game but have better hands than their numbers might suggest. Along with that, they developed as solid blockers.
“People asked me after I made the Cowboys last year, ‘You can catch and run and stuff?’ Yes, you just have to have an opportunity in order to produce,” Swaim said. “If you throw me 100 balls, I’m going to catch half of them. Same with M.J. We were obviously trying to do the best we could when we got our opportunities, and I think he’s going to surprise some people.”
McFarland finished his college career with 19 catches for 178 yards and three touchdowns over 36 career games. Those certainly don’t jump out, but McFarland has a receiving history.
He was an all-state wide receiver at El Paso El Dorado and left as the school’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
“I felt personally as a player I could have done more in college, but also as a player you’ve got to listen to coach and do whatever they ask,” said McFarland, who models his game after players such as Miami’s Jordan Cameron and Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz.
“So I was grateful for the opportunity to play. But, if you ask me personally, I feel like I could have done a lot more in the passing game. That’s my strong suit.”
McFarland graduated from Texas with a degree in applied learning and development in May 2014. He actually lobbied to be part of Texas’ Pro Day on March 23.
However, it seems like that won’t happen and he will have to work out for scouts in DFW between the Pro Days of SMU and TCU on March 30.
Either way, all McFarland wants is a chance to show he belongs in the NFL.
“Once I got news that I wasn’t going to be able to play last year, I moved to DFW ASAP and got straight to work at Michael Johnson Performance,” McFarland said. “Training is going great. I’m working with one of the greatest in the world, so it’s a great opportunity and chance to get to learn from him.
“I’ve learned here how to be a professional on and off the field, how to truly take care of your body and your game so you can be able to execute when the time comes.”