The “big, huge teddy bear,” as Father Lopez track coach Sue O’Malley describes senior A.J. McFarland, didn’t want to make a scene.
When Jamari Johnson’s final discus toss came to rest on the turf at Friday’s 1A state meet, McFarland knew the title was his. He instinctively fired a “subtle” fist pump before acknowledging his family — his mom and grandparents up in the stands at the University of North Florida’s Hodge Stadium and his dad and sister who were set up behind him on the field.
“The feeling inside was like no other, it was the complete feeling of fulfillment,” McFarland said.
His winning throw came on his fourth try — a 167-foot heave. He had to overcome a gaffe on his first attempt during the prelims when his throw wasn’t measured because he stepped outside the ring. He ventured off alone between throws, regained composure before the finals, and made it happen.
The lone wolf approach isn’t that uncommon for the University of Florida recruit, explained O’Malley.
“He would separate from rest of the athletes, not because he’s cocky, but he would put himself away from the rest of the competition,” she said. “He was visualizing what he did well, what he needed to do to win a state title.”
Every move that led to McFarland’s crown — from his spins to a last-minute switch to a pair of Asics running shoes after a slip in his usual discus footwear — was calculated. When the final marks were tallied, McFarland’s throw bested second-place finisher Johnson’s by 14 feet.
It’s the first state title for a Father Lopez track athlete since Kyle Mowen won both the discus and shot put in 2009.
“It’s fulfilling as a whole to know I put in that much hard work, and now it’s paid off.” McFarland said. “All the hard work has been for a good thing and a good outcome.”