Back home again in Indiana

Bill Rabinowitz
brabinow@dispatch.com

Terry McLaurin will play this week in his home state against the first team that believed in him enough to offer a scholarship.

McLaurin didn’t come close to accepting Purdue’s offer, even though it is his mom’s alma mater. But it meant a lot to him. It verified what he believed he could become, even if others were skeptical.

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Heck, even Ohio State put the wide receiver through the wringer before extending a scholarship. McLaurin was never the athletic prodigy. Yes, he was fast, but he grew late.

But what McLaurin has always possessed — excellent character, an embrace of work and selflessness — has enabled him to rise steadily. The senior is now revered as a team leader, with status as a two-time captain as proof.

“An A-plus guy,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.

• • •

When he entered Indianapolis Cathedral as a freshman, McLaurin entered a new world. He had attended a public school on the northwest side. Cathedral was a Catholic school on the city’s east side.

Though Cathedral would win five straight Indiana state football championships, McLaurin’s parents, Terry Sr. and Grace, sent their son to the college preparatory school for its academics.

“To be honest, it wasn’t really my decision at first,” he said.

Other than a couple of close friends who also went there, McLaurin knew nobody at the school. He didn’t know anyone on the football team, which he joined as a 5-foot-4, 125-pound freshman before growing 7 inches as a sophomore.

“I was fast, probably one of the fastest, but to be honest, there wasn’t much else to me,” McLaurin said with a chuckle.

It wasn’t until the end of his sophomore season that he made an impact. He played junior varsity until he was called up for the playoffs because of an injury to an upperclassmen. In his first game, he caught the winning touchdown pass.

That was McLaurin’s first big moment, but his rise was more steady than spectacular before culminating in becoming Indiana’s Mr. Football his senior season. Purdue’s offer came after his junior season, but the offers were more of a trickle than a flood.

He attended an Ohio State camp at the behest of then-assistant coach Kerry Coombs. There, McLaurin showed off his speed and believed he’d done well enough to earn an offer. Meyer thought otherwise. He told McLaurin that his hands needed work and to practice before returning for another camp in two weeks.

“That was kind of a gut punch,” McLaurin said.

But he did what Meyer asked. He caught 200 passes a day from his high school quarterback, his dad, his mom, and even his younger sister, Miah.

“When he came back, boy, you could tell he worked on it,” Meyer said.

Meyer offered him a scholarship and McLaurin accepted. If he could improve that much in two weeks, McLaurin figured he’d grow exponentially in four or five years at Ohio State if he put in the work.

• • •

There was no doubt he would. When Meyer started at Ohio State in 2012, he famously derided the wide receivers as a "clown show." Mickey Marotti, Meyer’s confidant as the program’s head strength and conditioning coach, recognized early that McLaurin would be part of a group that would change the culture of the receivers room.

“I always knew I had hard work on my side,” McLaurin said. “It was going to be pretty tough for guys to outwork me. I was pretty realistic with myself. I might I knew I may not be the biggest, fastest or strongest. But whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it.”

The production didn’t happen overnight. McLaurin redshirted his first year, caught only 10 passes in 2016 and 29 last season. But day after day, he earned the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates.

“When he says something, everybody stops whatever they’re doing and listens,” junior receiver K.J. Hill said. “Then again, he can be a jokester, too. But when it’s time to lock in, he locks in.”

That’s what McLaurin hopes is his greatest impact. He prides himself on being a mentor to younger teammates. He carries himself with a maturity beyond his years. His father said he’s never gotten the phone call that every parent dreads alerting him about some foolish mistake his kid has made.

“He’s just such a humble kid,” Terry McLaurin Sr. said. “I’m so proud of him as a man. Football is something extra. God gave him that gift. But God mostly gave him humility. He’d rather see someone else succeed than himself.”

McLaurin and his fellow receivers did transform the wide receivers room. The clown show days are long gone. He, Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon are all captains of a unit that’s considered the heart of the team.

This year, McLaurin has seven touchdown catches, but he may be better known for his blocking. He took out three Penn State players to help spring Hill for his winning touchdown.

“It’s a little bit of technique, but it’s really effort and want-to and heart,” McLaurin said. “If you want to get the job done, you’ll find a way. That’s the mentality I take. I know our team needs that out of our wide receivers so I try to provide that at a high level.”

McLaurin describes himself as the Swiss Army knife of the receivers unit.

“Parris has the speed,” he said. “Ben (Victor) has the freakish ability. Johnnie can go over the top. K.J. has those hands, and Austin (Mack) has the route-running. I think I’m the guy who doesn’t necessarily get all the recognition, but I’m cool with that. I do whatever’s asked of me — blocking or making plays down the field.”

McLaurin has thrived off the field as well. He graduated last December with a degree in communications and is pursuing a second degree in sociology. He has had job internships, including one with Nike. McLaurin said Meyer has urged him to consider a career in coaching.

First, McLaurin would like to take a shot at the NFL. He likely won’t be a high draft pick, but the odds have never deterred him.

“I’ve always been a guy who maybe didn’t start at the top, but worked my way up to there,” he said.

His coach vouches for that.

“He’s an awesome guy,” Meyer said. “He’s got a great life outside of football and in football.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch 

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