ASHBURN, Va. — The nickname wasn’t original and might not stick, but it was appropriate. Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum, so he claims, dubbed rookie receiver Terry McLaurin as “Scary Terry” in training camp.
The moniker reached his high school, prompting his former coach at Cathedral High in Indianapolis, Rick Streiff, to chuckle.
“We laughed a little bit,” Streiff said, “because he’s not scary anywhere except on the field.”
He has been scary to defenses because of his 4.35 speed in the 40-yard dash. McLaurin, who has 23 receptions in his five games, averages 17.74 yards per catch — sixth highest in the NFL. Eight of his catches have gone for at least 20 yards. He’s become the main bright spot in a 1-5 Redskins season, an unexpected start from a third-round pick … who might have a nickname.
“I won’t get mad at it; I feel it could be more original,” McLaurin said. “Other guys have had it. Terry Rozier. I don’t look at myself like I have to have a nickname. I’m just going to go out and play ball. Some things that caught my eye is F1 McLaurin, a play on the words with the car. My homeboys call me T-Mac, Mac Made, Mac Mania. I’m friendly with that. It’s kind of cool just to be living my dream.”
Another appropriate one: Touchdown Terry. After all, he has five of them.
“I heard that a little bit in college, but shoot, I have to keep it going,” McLaurin said, “it’s not going to mean something if I don’t keep making plays.”
But McLaurin isn’t about nicknames; that’s just something fun that comes with a taste of success. For McLaurin, it’s been about the journey he traveled to make the plays that have earned him attention. This is how he went from a 5-foot-4, 125-pound high school freshman to a rookie with a nickname.
The early glimpse
McLaurin entered Cathedral as a part-time player on the freshman team with speed. “At 5-4, he needed to be fast,” Streiff said.
It wasn’t a fast rise, but by his senior season, McLaurin was a major Division I recruit. In a state championship win that season, McLaurin caught three touchdown passes.
However, two games from his senior season stood out to Streiff. In a game vs. Arsenal Tech, Cathedral faced a fourth-and-2 while trying to run out the clock. McLaurin, who sometimes played running back, was hit twice three yards deep in the backfield on the outside zone run, spun and bulled forward to pick up the first down by a yard.
“Terry gets a three-yard run and it might be one of the greatest runs you’ve ever seen,” Streiff said. “He wills himself to get a first down. He could have easily gone down on the first hit. It’s one of those plays that he had no business getting a first down. You go back and watch the film the next day and that was just a singular effort by a kid who just wants to win.
“One thing I’d brow beat our players with is when our best player is your hardest worker, we have a really good team and he took that to heart. You didn’t see him jog through warm-up drills trying to be cool.”
In the sectional championship, McLaurin rushed for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Here’s the kicker: He only went to the backfield because the opponent, Decatur Central, wanted to double-team him off the line at receiver. The strategy backfired.
“That was pretty fun,” he said.
He was named Mr. Football in Indiana. He was on his way.
McLaurin, a four-star recruit at Ohio State, went from special teams to offensive captain and big-play threat his senior year. But to make the jump from standout college receiver to NFL impact player, he needed to work more on his game.
That wasn’t a problem. After all, here’s how he earned his scholarship: After attending a camp at Ohio State, he was told he had the intangibles they wanted, but he needed to catch the ball better. For the next three weeks, McLaurin caught 300 to 400 passes a day. He was told that wasn’t good enough. McLaurin kept working. He went back again a few weeks later. Then-coach Urban Meyer saw him catch a few passes, told McLaurin he was markedly better, and gave him a scholarship.
Before his last season with the Buckeyes, McLaurin spent the spring catching passes … around a red tackling dummy with extended arms. McLaurin, practicing contested catches and wanting to catch the ball more out in front of him, spent hours running at the dummy and catching balls from a Jugs machine.
“You get what you emphasize,” Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline said. “You can do footwork drills as much as you want, but if you don’t have exact footwork you can still be successful. … Making the focus on contested catches and working on eye control with the dummy in a way that can help facilitate that growth. But a lot of it is mindset. When Terry understood it’s not OK to drop the ball, his mindset and approach changed.”
Hartline stressed hand-eye coordination. McLaurin, bothered by his one drop Sunday, said he was working on his eye control during practice Wednesday — making sure he looked at every catch until he tucked the ball. In college, both McLaurin and Parris Campbell caught between 35 to 50 passes before practice off the Jugs machine.
“They did that the last two years of their careers,” Hartline said. “There were times I barked at them to get into the walk-through, but they would not start until that routine was completed.”
This past spring, McLaurin struggled to get open at times against some of the veteran corners, notably Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. McLaurin would pick his brain about everything from his release to the tells on those routes. He told McLaurin not to stutter his feet, for example, before cutting. McLaurin would watch for that on film; same with making sure he didn’t rise up in his route — a tipoff he was about to stop.
“A fast guy like me, if I could give no tells, it will increase my separation,” McLaurin said. “The worst thing I can do is feel I’ve done enough.”
McLaurin leads all rookie receivers with 23 catches for 408 yards and five touchdowns — that last figure is second among all wideouts.
“He’s doing everything I thought he was capable of,” Hartline said.
It’s what the Redskins expected as well, though they weren’t sure it would happen this fast. On draft night, then-coach Jay Gruden predicted the third-round pick would be a future starter.
“For him to overcome that learning curve and take on a leadership role by example speaks volumes for his play,” Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan said. “As he just continues to work diligently and he maintains his focus and shows continual improvement, the sky’s the limit for him.”
McLaurin talks like a 10-year vet. It translates to savviness on the field, too. He said if he’s not the primary read on a play, or if it’s a run, he’ll use that rep to set up another route. He’ll run a slant three times in a row, forcing the defensive back to play him inside. Then on the next one, he’ll release inside as if on a slant only to peel back outside.
Against Miami on Sunday, he had watched Dallas’ Amari Cooper win on an intermediate crossing route. So, from the Dolphins’ 25-yard line, McLaurin sold the crosser — turning his head back as he reached the middle. The safety came up; the corner bit hard inside — and McLaurin turned and headed to the corner for a touchdown catch.
“Terry is special,” Keenum said. “He’s friendly on the eyes as a quarterback.”
Redskins receiver Trey Quinn said McLaurin came into the NFL with a “professional mindset.” After the draft, Quinn received a text from his father with a quote from McLaurin about wanting to be the best gunner on special teams. He didn’t say anything about receiver play.
“My dad is a big Terry fan as well,” Quinn said. “Just from that first interview and first meeting with him. He’s a very mature guy and he knows how to be a professional.”
McLaurin’s journey isn’t complete, but he’s come far from the time he was a short, fast kid entering high school. This is the first time he’s entered a new level and made an instant impact from scrimmage. That’s the scary part for defenses.
“If you ask the teams I’ve been on, hopefully I’ve earned my respect,” McLaurin said, “and have worked my way up to be a force to be reckoned with on the field.”