TAMPA — He looks impressive just walking off the team bus — chiseled, agile, huge hands, 6-foot-7.
“I would actually say 6-6 and 5/8,’’ University of South Florida junior tight end Mike McFarland said with a smile.
Regardless of the numbers, McFarland has begun to measure up as a key contributor for the Bulls (2-4, 2-0 American Athletic Conference), who host the No. 18-ranked Louisville Cardinals (6-1, 2-1) on Saturday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium.
McFarland, the former Blake High School standout who transferred to USF from the University of Florida in 2011, had only five career receptions coming into this season.
Now he’s thriving in Willie Taggart’s tight end-friendly offense. McFarland has nine catches, including four for 49 yards against Cincinnati. What’s more, he has become an exceptional special-teams player with blocked field goals in the past two games.
“Mike is getting confident in himself more than anything,’’ Taggart said. “He’s starting to see what we all see, all the potential. This kid can be special for us. …It’s like he had a nice little dream, a wake-up call, ‘I can be the guy I thought I’d be the day I left and went to college.’ ’’
McFarland, soft-spoken and sincere, beamed when asked about his recent productivity.
“I’m starting to actually feel like I know I can make plays,’’ he said. “It’s just a wonderful feeling to know I’m putting my team in a position to score. They’re putting me, as well as other playmakers on the team, in a position to make plays. We want to make them.’’
McFarland’s field-goal blocks have been a pleasant surprise. Taggart joked he’d like to see McFarland do that every game.
“It starts with the defensive line, getting a good push up front,’’ McFarland said. “Just see it come off the kicker’s foot, try to put my hands on it somehow, just try to get in the way. To know you kept three points away from the other team, it’s amazing.’’
“We talk about how special teams can be a momentum-changer,’’ Taggart said. “Two games in a row, he has created that for us. He has a role for us — a big role. He has added another playmaker to our offense.’’
From the looks of things, McFarland is here to stay as an important player in USF’s program. He always looked the part. Now he has the confidence to match.
The 14 members of USF’s inaugural 1997 team that participated in the 1996 practice-only season and finished their five-year careers with the Bulls will be introduced Saturday on the field during the second quarter.
Expected back are Ryan Benjamin, Otis Dixon, Edwin Greene, Steve Hatley, Shawn Hay, Charlie Jackson, Roy Manns, Vassay Marc, Leon Matthews, Corey Porter, Joe Sipp and Rafael Williams. Two others — Anthony Henry and Marshall Smith — aren’t able to attend.
Women’s soccer goalie Christiane Endler was named American Athletic Conference Keeper of the Week after collecting 11 saves in a win against Memphis and a double-overtime tie against Rutgers. The Bulls (8-4-4, 3-3-1 AAC) finish the regular season tonight at SMU and Sunday at Houston. USF was 8-0-3 at Corbett Stadium this season. The AAC tournament begins at campus sites on Nov. 1-3. …Men’s golf sophomore Chase Koepka, who has two individual titles in three fall tournaments, is No. 10 in the Golfweek national rankings.