MORGANTOWN — First, Mike O’Laughlin was a tight end caught up in a Chicago area high school wide receiver’s body.
Then, when he got to West Virginia and turned loose the tight end within him, he discovered that was what he was all along and has begun making his presence felt with his blocking and pass receiving.
See, tight end isn’t so much a position as it is a mentality.
Just what is that mentality? He tipped if off on Tuesday in this week’s pre-Baylor media interviews when asked which he liked more — catching a first down pass or knocking someone on their posterior with a block.
“I get more satisfaction putting someone on their back than catching a first down pass. Putting someone on their back against their will is one of the best feelings on the planet,” he said.
This isn’t just Mike O’Laughlin speaking, even though he is the one voicing the words.
He is speaking for all tight ends.
See, he has spent a lot of his time watching today’s star tight ends in action ... the likes of Ron Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and George Kittle.
“Everyone sees touchdowns but when I look at them, I see guys who love to play football and that’s the key to success in this game. If you love this game, you will put yourself in positions to do well,” O’Laughlin said. “So, watching them, I saw a clip of Kittle putting someone on his back in the end one and he’s laughing right after the play. That’s just pure joy and excitement of playing the game.
“That’s what I want to emulate because it is a game and should be treated like a game. It’s fun.”
You find that tight ends are football versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, split personalities who seem quite contradictory but who play off each other.
“It’s a mindset,” he said. “On the field you have to be a little nasty but off the field you can be whoever you want. That’s a choice. I just like to enjoy life. I’m usually an optimistic person, but when I’m on the gridiron I do everything I can to get it done.”
He is trying to bring that type of attitude into the tight end room, where there are a number of promising young prospects, just as O’Laughlin was.
“They have a lot of potential. One thing I’m focused on right now is setting a good example and setting a culture within our position room that we’re ruthless ... that we’re going to go get you,” he said.
“Trevon Wesco did it and I kind of learned from that. Now, being in a leadership position I want to bring that back, that mindset.”
He spent much of last season learning the position, grew into it so that he was a force in the Liberty Bowl victory over Army, setting off high expectations for this year.
But before camp could open he suffered a foot injury, a stress problem that had grown over the year, which kept him from practicing and out of action for the first two games.
“It was frustrating,” he said. “It was difficult when I found out I was going to miss maybe the first two games. When that happens that’s when you have to put your head down, work as hard as you can and help the guys around you who are going to be at that position.”
“He was a big topic as the year started,” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “He has had a great off-season and has become a great player in both phases. We’ll see how that progresses as he continues to climb.
“He has established a great presence in blocking,” Parker continued. “There were two or three plays in the Texas Tech game where he really played physical and finished guys the way good players do at that position. He really took a step in the passing game as well, which gives us a different dimension. I’m really happy with him and will continue to help him grow as he is well and is able to practice.”