Rick Streiff laughs now about his first impression of Terry McLaurin, mostly because there wasn’t much of one.
McLaurin was a freshman in Streiff’s geography class at Cathedral High School in the fall of 2010. Little did Streiff know that the quiet kid, just 5-3 and 125 pounds at the time, would later become the most dynamic player he’s had in 24 years of coaching football.
“He was a little bitty dude,” Streiff said, recalling McLaurin’s freshman year. “That geography class had quite a few knuckleheads, and they took turns driving you crazy. But it was also a fun group to be around. You could tell Terry had a serious side that he was going to get done what he needed to get done.”
Blessed with sprinter’s speed and an instinctive, make-you-miss wiggle in the open field, McLaurin — now listed at 6-feet and 175 pounds — got it done on the football field for Cathedral with a distinctive flair and a knack for performing his best in the biggest games. He was Cathedral’s Swiss Army knife, capable of turning a game as a receiver, running back, kick returner and even on defense.
That versatility, on full display in Cathedral’s 42-18 Class 5A state championship win over top-ranked Westfield last month, helped earn McLaurin the 2013 IndyStar Indiana Mr. Football award. He received 19 votes from a panel of Indiana Football Coaches Association members, ahead of Cardinal Ritter quarterback Jake Purichia (nine), Gary Andrean quarterback Matt DeSomer (eight), Elwood running back Sammy Mireles (four) and Carmel receiver Austin Roberts (three).
McLaurin, an Ohio State recruit, is the second Mr. Football winner from Cathedral; running back Otis Shannon won in 2000.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” McLaurin said. “When you have this (No. 1) jersey on, you are part of elite company and I don’t take it for granted to represent Indiana, my school and my family.”
With his skill set as a returner and No. 25 look-alike Notre Dame jersey, McLaurin cuts a striking resemblance on the field to similarly sized former ND star Raghib “Rocket” Ismail.
It takes a certain amount of fearlessness to successfully return kicks and punts. McLaurin likes the variety that special teams offers to his normal role as a receiver. One of his most memorable returns came this year against Cincinnati Moeller, when he popped through an opening around the 25-yard-line, then cut to the left sideline. As two Moeller players closed in, he cut back to his right and made a beeline for the end zone.
McLaurin admits his heart pumps a little faster as the ball sails to him on a return.
“You can change momentum so fast on a punt return or kick return,” he said. “Just being able to give a spark here or there to get momentum on our side is definitely fun.”
The mere presence of McLaurin on the field for returns forced opponents to alter their plans. Westfield coach Jake Gilbert said as much after the state title game, calling him “the best player I’ve seen.
“He forces the entire game plan,” Gilbert said. “Where you kick it, how far you kick it. He affects everything. There are plays he doesn’t make, but he still makes the play.”
McLaurin accounted for 196 all-purpose yards in the championship game, rushing for 79 yards and two touchdowns (on three carries) and catching a 41-yard pass for another score. In the Class 4A state championship as a junior, he set a 4A finals record for longest punt return (66 yards) and longest touchdown reception (79 yards) in a 56-29 win over Mishawaka.
In the win over Westfield, McLaurin also made four tackles and had an interception at cornerback.
“He hardly practices defense and then comes up with a bunch of tackles and an interception,” said Cathedral quarterback Collin Barthel. “We’re using him on offense, defense and special teams. Hats off to Terry. He’s a great player.”
As easy as he makes it look now, McLaurin had his doubts early in high school. Never mind Mr. Football aspirations. He wasn’t sure he could even make it on the field at Cathedral.
McLaurin was known as the “fast kid” going back to his elementary school days. At New Augusta Middle School, he caught passes from Dominique Booth, who would go on to be a star receiver himself at Pike.
But because of his small stature, McLaurin wasn’t sure he’d make waves at a football power like Cathedral, which won the first of four consecutive state titles his freshman season.
“Doubts would be an understatement,” he said. “Being a freshman, I gave up basketball. I was a really passionate basketball player. But being smaller, I thought I probably needed to put that down because I didn’t think I was going to grow that much. I wasn’t sure I could go in and compete at Cathedral being a smaller guy in football. That was tough not getting the results I was working for.”
McLaurin credits his family for supporting him. His father, Terry McLaurin Sr., played small college football in North Carolina. His mother, Grace (Webb) McLaurin, ran sprint relays for the Tech track and field team in high school.
It was actually Terry’s father who pitched the idea of moving from running back to wide receiver as he entered middle school.
“It seemed like he wasn’t going to grow, so I told him it might be a good idea to move to receiver,” the elder McLaurin said. “He didn’t like the idea at first, but once he saw how big the middle-schoolers were, he kind of agreed with me.”
McLaurin played some varsity as a sophomore, but didn’t really break out until the second half of his junior year. Teaming with quarterback Connor Rice, he caught 33 passes for 820 yards (a blistering 24.8 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns.
“He was kind of under the radar until the tournament his junior year,” Streiff said. “Then it was just an explosion.”
His role expanded even more as a senior, as Streiff utilized him out of the backfield on occasion. He rushed for 744 yards and six touchdowns and caught 58 passes for 953 yards and eight touchdowns. Including returns, where he scored two touchdowns, McLaurin accounted for 2,324 yards and averaged 13.9 yards per touch.
“He’s the guy we counted on,” Streiff said. “He’s the guy we hung our hat on. The bigger the game, the more ways we had to find a way to get him the ball.”
McLaurin isn’t the stereotypical “diva” receiver. His sister, Miah, a junior at Cathedral, said it’s a “transformation” to see her brother go from “laid-back Terry” at home to highlight-reel performer on the field.
“Terry doesn’t really like the attention,” said his mother, Grace. “But football brings attention of its own. If you didn’t really know him, you might think he craved it. But it’s really quite the opposite.”
Though he’s ranked as a four-star recruit now, McLaurin’s recruitment didn’t take off until the summer before his senior year. After he tested as the fastest player at Ohio State’s camp in June, he met with coach Urban Meyer.
“He said, ‘We like you, but I just don’t know anything about you,'” McLaurin Sr. said. “He said, ‘(assistant coach Kerry Coombs) just dropped this stuff on my desk. Where did you come from?'”
Meyer invited him back to another camp two weeks later. During those two weeks, McLaurin caught 200 to 300 balls per day, with his father, mother and sister all filling in as quarterback. He also worked with former Cathedral quarterback Connor Barthel, who is now at the University of Indianapolis.
“He went back and had a really good camp,” McLaurin Sr. said. “Coach Meyer worked him out himself for about an hour, and then offered him at the end of the day.”
McLaurin, who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, accepted soon after, picking the Buckeyes over offers from Boston College, Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Purdue, among others. He’ll take his official visit to Ohio State this weekend and plans to sign in February.
Those close to McLaurin say his athletic success hasn’t changed him. That starts at home, where he and his sister are required to do the dishes and their own laundry.
Streiff tells a story about two young boys asking for McLaurin’s autograph at the celebration after Cathedral’s state championship. McLaurin put down his food and knelt next to the boys, talking to them for several minutes.
“He made them feel good about themselves,” Streiff said. “He didn’t have to do that. But that’s who he is.”
As much as any electric kickoff return or touchdown catch, that’s a memory Streiff will treasure when he thinks of McLaurin.
“Those are the things that separate him,” Streiff said. “He’s a good one.”