March 19, 2008

Listen up: The nation's best DT speaks

It's been a busy spring for Jamarkus McFarland.

The nation's top-ranked defensive prospect for the 2009 recruiting class has taken a handful of unofficial visits while formulating a top three of Texas, Oklahoma and LSU. With every trip he takes, and with seemingly every word he utters, recruiting fans are constantly trying to figure out which program might have the upper hand. Is it the defending national champion LSU Tigers? How about the in-state Texas Longhorns? Or could it be perennial Big 12 power Oklahoma?

With visits to Texas and LSU already in the bag, McFarland spent some time last week in Norman checking out the Sooners, and he said Oklahoma made a strong impression.

"It was another visit for a high school player, so it's always going to be exciting. What stood out is the coaching staff - they're straight forward and you can tell that they're honest. And the intensity of their practice. I got to watch the scrimmage they had going on and the intensity and the way they keep their players fired up to come to practice. That tells a lot about the coaches," McFarland said. "Community-wise, it's smaller but that makes it easier to focus on books."

The easy question, now that the five-star defensive tackle has seen all three of his favorites, is which visit won him over the most?

"As far as comparing it to the other ones, it's all still the same. They were in my top three before. They're still there," McFarland said. "I'm still looking around but that was a place that I can see myself in the future. With the defensive tackles they've had in the past, that says a lot too.

"It stays around even. All the schools have put defensive tackles in the league successfully and they're all successful in the league. It's not just one that's in front of the other. I liked OU and I found out why I liked it more than just 'they're Oklahoma' but they're all still even."

The football factors will obviously weigh heavy in McFarland's eventual decision, but he's also looking at other issues like academics and the overall feel of each community. He sees positives in both the larger city atmospheres that Austin and Baton Rouge present, but the small-town feel of Norman also holds some strengths.

"When you come out of high school, you want to experience some exposure and have some fun. But you also need to use your head and realize you need to be focused on your books and focused on football," McFarland said. "Oklahoma is a smaller place but if I wanted fun, Oklahoma City is 20 miles away. So it's not that big of a deal."

Up next, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound blue-chip plans to take a breather from the recruiting process, although he's not ruling out the possibility of making another stop by one of his favorites for a quick look.

"I'm taking a break. I haven't thought about it. I haven't made up my mind whether or not I'll go anywhere but I might try to go to one of the spring games because I've never been to one of those," McFarland said.

Whatever he decides to do next, fans will undoubtedly be paying close attention. Such is life in the world of one of the nation's top recruits. But through it all, McFarland has maintained a level head, kept himself grounded and there's no reason to expect that to change.

"My mom really pushes humbleness and respect of others. I just stick to that," McFarland said. "I don't see myself any different now than I did growing up just because I'm ranked. All of my peers, they're still my boys. I see myself as one of them, a Lufkin Panther. It's going to be hard to leave them behind. I don't see myself as all the hype. I just see myself as a regular high school player that's out going hard.

"It was their first time seeing this stuff so it's exciting to them too. It was my spring break so we took it more like a vacation. We got away from home, they got away from jobs and we just kind of relaxed. But they haven't picked out a certain one that they like."

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