NORMAN — Four years ago Tuesday, Jamarkus McFarland called Jackie Shipp and offered his commitment to Oklahoma as a Christmas gift.
McFarland, then a four-star defensive tackle prospect from Lufkin, Texas, chose the Sooners over Texas in one of the more high-profile recruiting battles in recent history. The story of his recruitment was chronicled in a lengthy, controversial New York Times article.
The first game of his college football career was Oklahoma's 2009 season opener, a 14-13 loss to BYU inside Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. He'll end his college career in the same stadium January 4, when Oklahoma faces Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl Classic.
The senior defensive tackle spoke last week about the challenge of facing the Aggies' Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, the excitement of returning to the stadium known as “JerryWorld,” and the hope that his next game there won't be his last.
What are your early impressions of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel?
“He's an amazing athlete. It's something we've gotta prepare for. We've seen a lot of running quarterbacks in my career here, but we've gotta approach things the same way.”
Manziel seems to be at his best when plans break down and he improvises. How can you guard against that?
“It's just one-on-one football. You can't let the quarterback outside of the pocket. At the same time, it's more than just him. He's not gonna do that every play. It's his receivers staying alive on the plays that he does scramble. His linemen keeping guys locked up for him to do those things. We've all just gotta play as a unit ... just prepare the best we can.”
How important will third-down stops be in this game?
“It's a goal for us week in and week out, but when you've got a talent like that on your offense ... you've gotta try to get them off the field when you've got that chance. The team that gets the most turnovers in this game, and also gets the most third-down stops, will come out with the victory.”
Are you looking forward to playing inside Cowboys Stadium again?
“Oh yeah. I love it. That's one of my favorite places to play, being in a dome-style, also being closer to home where family members can come out, and you can showcase your skills in front of family members that are there and not just watching at home on TV.”
What's the best thing about playing there?
“Going back home. Especially this game, I've got friends that go to A&M; that was the closest big university to my hometown. It's fun all the way around. But being in JerryWorld is just amazing. It doesn't matter if you're in the visitors' locker room, or the cheerleading locker room. Everything's nice and it's all brand new.”
What's your favorite part of the actual stadium?
“I think the Jumbotron is the biggest. Sometimes you make plays and a lot of people don't see. But whenever you play on that thing, I feel like everybody sees it. That's probably the best thing about the stadium right there.”
Is it tough to not look up at it sometimes?
“I look up. I'll tell you the truth. They're gonna catch you, whatever you're doing. So if I'm chilling on the bench, I'm gonna take a peak.”
With your NFL dreams still in front of you, do you hope the Cotton Bowl won't be the last time you play in Cowboys Stadium?
“I pray it's not. God willing, I hope I can take this to the next level and be able to play in a facility like that all the time.”