Healthy Again, O’Laughlin Ready To Contribute For WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Things have changed greatly for Mike O’Laughlin from 12 months ago.
In August of 2018, he was a 6-foot-5, 205-pound true freshman from the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, was fairly new to Morgantown, adjusting to the college game, learning a new position at tight end and then suddenly forced to rehab a serious knee injury.
Now fast forward a year, and O’Laughlin is healthy again, 45 pounds heavier and trying to perfect his tight end skills all while getting used to a new coaching staff.
“The knee is great. I think it’s been about a year and a month,” O’Laughlin said, reflecting back on his injury in 2018 summer workouts. “It feels normal now.
“You can ask anyone who has had an ACL (injury), and the rehab is difficult,” the business major noted. “It’s more frustrating than anything else, because you’re down in the weight room working with the strength staff while the team is out on the field practicing. You miss that. But the focus was to get healthy, and I focused on that for about nine months, no football activities. When I got to do football again, it felt great.”
O’Laughlin used the year of rehab to get bigger and stronger. He arrived at WVU in the summer of 2018 weighing 205 pounds, and then steadily went up from there. He got as big as 260 pounds in the winter before his knee was healthy enough to allow him to workout at a more strenuous level, and he’s now pared back to 250.
Besides getting bigger, he also studied the tight end position. Having been a wide receiver in high school, he had to learn his new role. To do so, he picked the mind of WVU’s starting tight end last year.
“Trevon Wesco took me under his wing, and Jovani Haskins as well,” O’Laughlin said of the current New York Jet and West Virginia junior respectively. “They’re great role models. When I was injured, they were always in my ear telling me to just focus on getting healthy. It was nice having them in my corner.
“The biggest thing I learned from Trevon is that he made it clear that blocking gets you everywhere at this position,” he added. “You have to be aggressive. I watched how he went about things on the field and off, and I definitely learned from that.”
The blocking is the biggest new piece for O’Laughlin.
“I was a receiver in high school, so most of my blocking was on the outside,” he said. “When you are blocking down on the line (as a tight end), everything is much quicker. You definitely have to learn some technique down there and go attack it.
“It’s something I wasn’t used to, but it’s something Coach (Travis) Trickett and I have been working on. I’m making my way.”
O’Laughlin was a tall, rangy receiver at Fenwick High School, which is just west of downtown Chicago. He was a two-time all-state selection, catching 54 passes for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns his senior year.
But he knew his future was at tight end, not receiver.
“My high school coach always told me I had the frame to be a tight end,” O’Laughlin noted. “I wasn’t a blazing fast receiver in high school, and I knew a lot of the colleges wanted me to put on 30 or 40 pounds and play tight end.”
In the summer between his junior and senior seasons at Fenwick, O’Laughlin attended a camp at Halas Hall, which is the Chicago Bears training facility, where he worked out with the tight ends.
That camp got the attention of West Virginia and a number of other schools. Dan Gerberry, who was WVU’s tight ends coach at the time, got in touch with the young recruit, and head coach Dana Holgorsen flew out to watch him in a game. After visiting Morgantown, O’Laughlin was sold, and stuck with his commitment to the Mountaineers even after Ohio State came through with a late offer.
Now O’Laughlin finds himself in spot where he’ll likely see game action in the very near future. Haskins returns after a year as Wesco’s backup, but the junior’s status is up in the air because of off field issues. T.J. Banks (6-4, 252 lbs.) is, like O’Laughlin, another promising redshirt freshman tight end, but Banks has missed some practice time this preseason because of an injury. Thus O’Laughlin has been the only steady force at the tight end position this month.
Certainly the young tight end is excited about the prospect of seeing playing time. He also likes the offense first-year head coach Neal Brown has brought to WVU.
“It’s a very versatile offense. Everyone fits in it,” explained the son of J.J. and Kathleen O’Laughlin. “It’s not just a certain body type.”
And there’s still a role for tight ends in Brown’s system.
“Sometimes we’re in the slot, and sometime our hand is in the dirt, and then we may be back in the (h-back position),” he explained. “You saw Wesco do all that stuff last year, and we’re still doing all of that.”
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O’Laughlin was very transparent in explaining his brief foray into the transfer portal this winter. He entered his name on January 3 after Dana Holgorsen departed, but quickly removed his name from the database on January 7, two days after WVU hired Neal Brown as its head coach.
“It was not that I was unhappy at West Virginia at all,” he said. “I was just at a school without a coach, and I wanted to see if there was anything else that might help me. When Coach Brown came here, I was fine with coming back. My father (who also transferred during his collegiate career) encouraged me to do it to see what was there and protect myself. People don’t understand that aspect (of the portal).”