Redshirt sophomore running back Anthony McFarland has one thing on his mind whenever he straps on his shoulder pads and lace up his cleats for the University of Maryland football team. Besides winning and being the best player on the field, McFarland is determined to put his state and school on the national spotlight.
McFarland, who grew up in the Prince Georges County area, is fueled by the idea of representing the place that made him the football player he is today.
“I think about how humble and blessed I am to represent the state of Maryland,” McFarland said. “Me representing the state of Maryland gives me chills and I feel that’s what makes me hungry. Every time I step on the field, I’m not just doing it for me, but where I’m from.”
McFarland’s love for Maryland is what made him pick the Terps over powerhouses such as Miami and Alabama. McFarland wants to follow the footsteps of former Maryland players, who decided to stay home.
“I feel like I did what everyone else did when they came to Maryland,” McFarland said. “Stefon Diggs, Vernon Davis and Shawn Merriman started a movement and showed you can win here. That’s what I always dreamed of.”
McFarland’s passion for football and love for his hometown is something that began when he was watching Washington Redskins’ games with his family at four years old.
“It started when I was four when I would be in the living room with a Redskins helmet and jersey on,” McFarland said. “I would run around and act like I was in the game. Football has always been my sport. It was my first love and something I had a passion about.”
McFarland saw football stripped away from him when he broke his fibula in 2016. The injury forced McFarland to miss his senior season at DeMatha Catholic High School and his first year with the Terps. McFarland isn’t afraid to admit how stressful the recovery process was, but he feels it taught him a lot about himself as a person.
“It’s been a crazy journey for me,” McFarland said. “All my life it’s been football and when I got hurt, I didn’t know which way to go. I got better at learning to do things when football is taken away like being a better family person and other aspects of life. I feel like the reason who I am today is because of all the adversity I’ve been through.”
McFarland returned to the field last season and not only established himself as one of the top running backs in the Big Ten, but one of the fastest players in college football. McFarland rushed for 1,034 yards and four touchdowns on 131 attempts. McFarland, who was named to the 2018 Second Team All-Big Ten, broke Maryland’s freshman rushing record and was the second player in school history with back-to-back 200 yard rushing games.
McFarland wants to build off of his stellar freshman campaign by becoming a better leader.
“I wanted to get better in my pass blocking and being a better player without the ball in my hands,” McFarland said. “When the ball is not going to me, I want to do the little things right like blocking and running down the field, blocking for teammates.”
McFarland has spent most of the offseason getting acclimated to the new system that’s been placed by first year Head Coach Mike Locksley and his coaching staff. One of the biggest things that stands out to McFarland is the family vibe and how the coaching staff cares about more than just football.
“It’s a family type thing and it’s not all about football with them,” McFarland said. “They want to make us better men on and off the field. When you got coaches like that, you want to play for them and not let them down.”
Locksley developed a strong relationship with McFarland prior to returning to College Park, as he has been following the running back since he was in middle school.
“Since he was a seventh or eighth grader, [I had] a chance to watch him as a youth football player at some of the grassroots events,” Locksley said. “I’m glad that he decided to come here and he was here waiting for me when I took over because he’s a dynamic special player and works really hard.”
McFarland’s work ethic and toughness has grabbed his teammates attention.
“Watching [McFarland] work everyday and being in practice with him, it’s crazy how hard he works and I think he’s getting what he deserves,” receiver Jeshaun Jones, who tore his ACL at the beginning of the season, said.
Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery has been amazed by McFarland’s skillset, which he feels makes him a unique player.
“[McFarland] probably has the most unique combination of speed and quickness that I’ve seen in a long time,” Montgomery said. “He’s efficient in his cuts and gains more ground than a normal running back. When you get players like that, it increase your ability to make big plays.”
McFarland believes he can find success within Maryland’s new offensive scheme, which is run by Locksley and Montgomery.
“I feel like the offense is very explosive,” McFarland said. “I feel like Coach [Locksley] offense is about getting the playmakers the ball and putting them in space. He showed that at Alabama.”
Maryland’s coaching staff is new yet has some familiarity to McFarland, as he will once again work with Elijah Brooks, who was hired as the running backs coach. Brooks was McFarland and other Maryland players’ head coach at DeMatha.
“That’s my guy,” McFarland said. “He was my high school head coach and taught me a lot about the running back position. He’s a real dude and treats everybody the same. He expects you to come in with the same attitude and wants you to be consistent.”
McFarland is confident that the Terps’ running back core, which consists of players like Javon Leake and Tayon Fleet-Davis, can compete with any team in the country this season.
“We have one of the best groups in the country,” McFarland said. “We are ready to compete against a lot of teams in the Big Ten. We got to step up as leaders this year and we want to show what we can do.”
Maryland’s roster will feature transfers like quarterback Josh Jackson, linebacker Shaq Smith and Keandre Jones, who has the potential to make an immediate impact. McFarland is excited to play alongside Jones and Smith since he played against them on the high school level.
“It makes me happy because I played [against] those guys in high school,” McFarland said. “They are well known around the area and one of the top players in the country coming out of high school.”
Keandre and Smith are continuing the latest trend, which has seen players play football close to home.
“The fact that they came home, shows that we can do something special and they see what’s going on here,” McFarland said. “They’re going to be tremendous leaders on defense.”
The D.C., Maryland and Virginia area has some of the best high school football talent in the country. The Terps have done a good job lately reeling in some of the area’s best players. McFarland is hoping more recruits come to Maryland.
“Whether they say it or not, I know there are guys from the area [who are] looking at Maryland and see the change of the culture,” McFarland said. “At the end of the day, you are going to go where your heart is. Me being here in the state of Maryland and knowing the athletes [we’d get if] everyone stayed home and took pride in it, Maryland could be a powerhouse.”
Outside of Maryland, the DMV has a strong presence within the Big Ten. From Ohio State’s Chase Young to Penn State’s Tariq Castro-Fields, McFarland is going up against players from the area on a weekly basis.
“It’s fun when you go against guys like Chase Young,” McFarland said. “It’s a lot of guys that I played in high school that you want to compete with everyday. I always talk to the guys I played with that’s in the Big Ten. But when we step on the field, it’s time to play football.”
McFarland and the rest of Maryland’s team has a lot to prove this season after everything they went through last year.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity last year,” McFarland said. “I’m playing for my team and everything we’ve been through. That’s the type of year it’s going to be.”