- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2019

ASHBURN — To the skeptics, dating all the way back to high school, Terry McLaurin’s NFL aspirations were a pipe dream. 

Not so for Terry McLaurin Sr.

The Redskin rookie’s father has long collected milestones from his son’s athletic accomplishments, and he made sure the younger McLaurin knew the football from the wideout’s first NFL touchdown was “coming home” to join the collection.

“He has a man-cave full of my stuff,” McLaurin said with a smile.

McLaurin Sr., it turns out, won’t have to wait long for that particular souvenir.

On Sunday — his 24th birthday — the Redskins receiver plans to give his father the memento in person as his parents will be on hand at FedEx Field to watch the Redskins take on the Dallas Cowboys in Washington’s home opener.

McLaurin, who had five catches for 125 yards and the touchdown in his debut, said he’s happy to part with the gift.

Given his road to get to the Redskins — from being an undersized kid in Indianapolis to being overlooked at Ohio State to being a Day 2 draft pick — it’s understandable.

Drafted in the third round out of Ohio State, McLaurin has blown past expectations since arriving in Ashburn. Hailed for being the “No.1 special teams player” in the draft by coach Jay Gruden, McLaurin didn’t step on the field Sunday as a special teamer.

He’s just too valuable.

In just a few months, the 6-foot-1 speedster has established himself as a starter that coaches are not going to risk losing on a kickoff.

“It just speaks to what he’s done as a receiver,” receivers coach Ike Hilliard said. “He came in and got the work in. He learned on a daily basis. You try to apply to the grass from the classroom and he did that a very high clip.”

“If we were smart, we would have taken him in the first round,” Gruden said.

Maybe this kid’s got something’

Nestled in for an afternoon of football at his Indiana home, Rick Streiff was watching Falcons-Vikings when the Fox broadcast interrupted the game to show highlights of McLaurin’s first NFL touchdown. The ex-Cathedral high school coach saw his former player race past his defender with a post-route and sprint to the end zone.

It reminded him of another play, the one that convinced Strieff the young player was more than just a skinny teenager with speed.

During Cathedral’s state sectional playoff game against rival Roncali in 2011, McLaurin — then a 5-foot-7 sophomore — caught the game-winning touchdown, torching his defender to haul in a prayer from the Cathedral’s quarterback.

“It’s at that point, that’s when you start going, ‘OK, maybe this kid’s got something here,’” Streiff said.

McLaurin’s development took off in the following years — driven by a strong work ethic. McLaurin went from a 5-foot-4, 140-pound freshman to a 6-foot senior who in 2013 earned Indiana’s Mr. Football award, given to the state’s best player. A four-star recruit, McLaurin started receiving scholarship offers his junior year — with Purdue and Indiana among schools interested.

But it was Ohio State that interested McLaurin. The problem? The Buckeyes weren’t fully ready to commit to him, not initially anyway.

As a junior in high school, McLaurin went to one of Ohio State’s summer camps in hopes of reeling in an offer. Out of the hundreds of prospects in attendance, McLaurin dazzled with the camp’s fastest 40-yard time. Yet when he met with coach Urban Meyer, McLaurin didn’t receive a scholarship. Instead he left with a challenge.

Impressed with McLaurin’s intangibles, Meyer told McLaurin he needed to improve his hands. He told McLaurin to take the next three weeks — until Ohio State had another camp — to catch 200 balls a day and come back to him.

So for two hours per day, McLaurin used the jugs machine to haul in as many passes as he could. He also had his receivers coach, mother, father and sister throw passes until his hands were tired.

By the time McLaurin returned, Meyer had seen enough — offering him a scholarship at the end of camp.

“There is nobody on the field that’s going to outwork him,” Streiff said. “When you talk about lead-by-example, there’s nobody that’s going to challenge his work ethic. Nobody.”

Fast track

Chris Thompson has been in the NFL since 2013, and in that time, the running back said he’s never seen a rookie treated the way the coaching staff handled McLaurin this preseason.

McLaurin played a grand total of one snap across four games. With McLaurin nursing a minor injury in the third preseason game, the Redskins even kept the wideout sidelined. It was an indication of how far McLaurin had come in camp — and how important the Redskins planned on him being to the upcoming season.

“Jay knew what he had,” Thompson said. “We all knew what Terry was.”

Against the Eagles, McLaurin demonstrated why he was the Redskins’ worst-kept secret. McLaurin’s 125 receiving yards were the third-most from a Redskin since 2016. In one game, McLaurin had more yards in an outing than former first-rounder Josh Doctson individually did in three seasons.

According to Sharp Football Analysis, McLaurin ran 40 different routes for Washington and led the team in air yards, a statistic that tracks the total distance between where the ball is thrown and the reception.

Those stats, in particular, signify McLaurin’s versatility. McLaurin, who ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the combine, can combine his blazing speed with precise route running. It’s desperately needed for an offense that struggled to pass in 2018.

McLaurin, meanwhile, isn’t surprised by his success. He said he tries to do whatever the coaches ask. 

The 23-year-old, too, set his goals higher than to just contribute on special teams. He wanted to be a starter.

“I felt like I had that type of skill set,” he said. “I may not have been able to showcase it at Ohio State, but I feel like I had that type of confidence. I didn’t necessarily think it was going to happen that fast, but I was preparing for it to happen.”

Being ready

Brian Hartline gave McLaurin advice.

Having played seven seasons in the NFL, the Ohio State receivers coach observed countless players who didn’t take full advantage of their opportunity. He knew there were players with off-the-charts attributes, similar to McLaurin‘s, who didn’t “maximize” their chance.

“I’m telling you what, the quickest way to get off the field is by making mistakes,” Hartline said he told McLaurin. “It’s really, really hard to get a player off the field that doesn’t make mistakes.”

McLaurin accepted the challenge, just as he’s always done throughout his life.

At Ohio State, McLaurin’s actual play could go overlooked. He finished his senior season with just 35 catches for 701 yards. The Buckeyes had other big-name receivers — Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor — that drew more attention.

But within the Buckeyes’ locker room, McLaurin was held in high regard. A two-time captain, McLaurin led by example. Hartline said his player asked the right questions, quickly learned from his mistakes and set the tone for others.

The Redskins drafted McLaurin partially for that reason.

“You don’t have to worry about Terry,” Hilliard said. “You can see the way he goes about his business. The way he carries himself. How he speaks in front of a camera. He gets it. Hopefully, we can corral that and spread it around to the rest of the team and get a bunch of guys here that really love and care about the game and hopefully play well for each other.”

Washington and McLaurin both understand the receiver will need to build off his performance in Philadelphia.

McLaurin wants his play to excel, so he can finally earn his “just due.”

“Sometimes you may feel like you’re putting in the work and you may not necessarily be given the things you may expect,” McLaurin said. “Obviously every receiver wants to get 1,000 yards and all these things, All-American. I kind of got comfortable doing whatever the team asked me to do at Ohio State, through high school and things like that.

“Being ready when my number is called is another thing I’ve really always lived by. If you seize one opportunity, more opportunities come.”

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