It’s been nearly 20 years, but Lori McLafferty remembers it like it was yesterday.
There was her son, 3-year-old Mike, with a New York Giants' children's uniform on running around outside. Lori would throw him passes, McLafferty would make diving catches and mimic his favorite players on the field.
"I used to joke with him and say someday it’s going to be your name on the back of that jersey," Lori recalled.
So when Mike McLafferty, who will be entering the 2014 NFL Draft out of Monmouth University, had his phone ring last week with a representative from the Giants on the other end, there was no doubt who he was telling first.
"I was dancing," Lori McLafferty said, laughing. "He kept telling me to stop. We had a little freak-out session."
McLafferty will be one of several collegiate athletes attending the Giants’ local workout day tomorrow. Some of the Northeast’s finest will arrive in East Rutherford for a private workout in front of scouts, coaches and general manager, Jerry Reese. Boston College’s Mike Naples will be one of the other tight ends in attendance.
"Knowing that they know who I am and that I’m on their radar … it’s a great feeling," McLafferty said. "I was a die-hard Giants fan growing up. I’ve been a fan my whole life."
The 23-year-old tight end is fresh off a season in which he caught 24 passes for 501 yards and four touchdowns, all career highs. Over the last five years, McLafferty has worked to develop himself into one of the top tight ends in the country.
In 2009, the Morgan N.J. native enrolled at Monmouth having played quarterback throughout high school. In his senior year, he led War Memorial to a 9-3 record and to the Central Jersey, Group IV championship game.
But upon arriving in West Long Branch, McLafferty knew his best position wouldn’t be under center, but several spots over. He changed his position to tight end, was redshirted and wound up on the scout team his first year. Week in and week out, McLafferty went head-to-head with the starting defense.
"That was tough," McLafferty said. "I questioned if I was even going to be able to play."
Monmouth tight end coach Jeff Gallo worked tirelessly to help McLafferty make up for lost time at the position. McLafferty had the size (6-foot-6, 255 pounds), the strength and was a natural pass catcher. The only thing he truly lacked were the fundamentals.
"I just tried to get better each year," McLafferty said. "I worked non stop."
In his redshirt freshman year, McLafferty caught just seven balls. In 2011, that number increased to 14 and in his junior year he caught 23. When four-year starter Tyler George graduated, McLafferty knew it was finally his chance to shine.
"Going into my senior year the job was all mine," McLafferty said. "I knew I was going to get a ton of reps and I wanted to be my team’s go-to guy. I wanted to be the guy that was considered a playmaker and caught everything that came to him. I wanted to be a big part of the offense."
In three fewer games than his teammates, McLafferty led Monmouth in yards per game, finished third in receptions and second in both touchdowns and yards. The breakout-year put McLafferty on several teams’ radars.
The New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders all attended his Pro Day on March 11. Last week, McLafferty had a private workout for the Miami Dolphins.
"I’m getting even more respect for the people that are in the league," McLafferty said. "It’s not just about training, but everything you eat. I’m on a strict new diet, training every day and I really have a great respect for how hard it is.
"You only get one shot at this. I’m giving it my all and hopefully a team will pick me."
McLafferty is viewed as a solid overall tight end with sure hands, the ability to run nice routes and also block. The skill set is certainly appealing to the tight end-needy Giants.
"You look at teams and know who needs a tight end and who doesn’t," McLafferty said. "They are known to be looking for a tight end and that makes it an even better opportunity for me."
Coming from Monmouth, McLafferty is expected to hear his name called at the end of the draft. If 'Mike McLafferty, Monmouth' doesn’t flash across the television screen, it’ll be his phone lighting up with teams looking to bring him in as an undrafted free agent.
Miles Austin, a Monmouth University graduate who recently had his jersey retired by the school, went undrafted in the 2006 NFL Draft. Austin eventually signed with the Dallas Cowboys, where in seven years he caught 301 passes for 4,481 yards and 34 touchdowns.
"He comes and works out with us over the summer and really is awesome," McLafferty said. "I look up to the success he’s had in the NFL. He took advantage of his opportunity and I want to take advantage of whatever one I get."
One of those opportunities will be in front of Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin and others in just 24 hours.
"I’m excited," McLafferty said. "Hopefully it all goes well and I can show the coaches, scouts and general manager what I can do. Hopefully I impress them."
As for his mom, it’s OK if her prediction 20 years ago doesn’t come true. It’s fine if ‘McLafferty’ doesn’t wind up etched across a blue uniform.
"Even if it’s just a workout I tell him all the time, imagine if you could tell that little three-year-old boy where you are now," Lori McLafferty said. "How cool would that be?
"Even if this journey doesn’t go any further, it’s been such a great experience."