MISSOULA — Mitch McLaughlin isn’t as tall as Sammy Akem or Keenan Curran and he doesn’t make the explosive plays like the Calhouns or Jerry Louie-McGee, but he finds a way on the field.
The 5-foot-9 wide receiver from Riverside, California, adds depth to an already deep receiving corps. He’s a minimalist, focuses on achieving the goal in front of him. The ideal receiver, in his mind, is a perfection of the strengths in his own game: Quick. Smart. Tough.
Not many receivers under 6 feet tall last long on most football teams. McLaughlin, Louie-McGee and Justin Calhoun are the only 5-foot-somethings among the receivers.
406mtsports.com caught up with McLaughlin and got some tips on how to make it as a short guy in the passing game, strengthening your hands and what he does to keep his hair perfect all the time.
Q: What did you learn last week playing Eastern Washington?
A: They’re just a good football team. We knew that going in, but I feel like they were resilient and we just got to finish games out.
Q: Going forward, looking at Portland State, what are you receivers working on?
A: We’re really just going to stick to our stuff. Perfect our craft as the season goes on. It’s really nothing new, just got to see what they’re doing and line up and do stuff the way we know how.
Q: What do you do personally to prepare for each game?
A: I get my playbook, mental reps when I’m not on the field. Just watching the defense, see what they’re doing so when the time comes I’ll be ready.
Q: Receivers need to have strong hands. What do you do to strengthen your hands?
A: Catch the ball. If you really want to get technical, I’ve never done it, but you could do push-ups on your fingers.
Q: Can you do push-ups on your fingers?
A: Yeah, I’ve done them before, but I don’t do them, like, normally. If you hit the jugs normally that helps with your hands.
Q: If you were to build the perfect receiver, what kind of attributes would they have?
A: I think about that a lot, especially when I start to have kids and stuff. I mean, he’s got to be average build, like six foot maybe. The bigger the better, I guess, but you’ve got to be able to move. Get in and out of breaks fast. Obviously, phenomenal hands and feet, but he’s got to be smart too. Got to know what he’s doing at all times. Got to have a feel of the game, kind of that natural ability.
Q: After one week, what are your impressions of Gresch Jensen?
A: I think he’s great. We all have stuff we’ve got to work on, but this guys, he’s something else. He’s going to lead us to some good things.
Q: I know a lot of receivers don’t like to wear the pads in the pants, to help them move better. What do you prefer?
A: Oh yeah, I’m all about protection. I’m not going to miss a game or practice because of some silly injury where I’m not wearing pads. I’m going to stay protected.
Q: If you’re trying to score in one play, what route do you want to run?
A: I’d probably run just a streak. Beat them deep and keep going.
Q: If you were to play any other sport, what would you play and what position?
A: I think about that a lot too. Probably play baseball. Be like a shortstop or something.
Q: Not a center fielder? It’s kind of similar to a receiver.
A: No, I don’t have the arm for that.
Q: You’re not as tall as some of these other guys. What do you do to make up for it in your game?
A: Just know what I’m doing. Trying to be as consistent as I can, because obviously my strength isn’t my size. So I try and, when people are re-routing me, get low because they’re used to hitting bigger guys so they got to get down low to get us small guys. And I guess just being shifty and quick out of my breaks and stuff is always a plus.
Q: After a big win, let’s say after Valparaiso or Savannah State, how do you relax and unwind?
A: It really don’t matter to me. I kind of do the same thing whether I hang out with my girlfriend or my homies, we just kick back and relax. We don’t really do too many extraneous activities.
Q: You’ve got great hair, too. Do you do your hair before games and practices?
A: I do my hair all the time. When I’m getting out of the shower, when I take my sweatshirt off, got to fix the hair. It’s just a natural thing for me to fix it. In high school I was runner up for best hair.