Throughout his football career, from high school to the pros, Terry McLaurin has been an underdog. It's part of the reason why the 26-year-old was so emotional on Wednesday when he took the podium after signing a three-year, $71 million extension with the Commanders.
"I cried some real tears. For a lot of my life, I've really had to grind and work for what I have now. I've had a lot of adversity and some people didn't really believe in my abilities," McLaurin said.
McLaurin had to earn his scholarship offer to Ohio State by grinding at summer camps. With the Buckeyes, it took four years for him to earn a prominent role in the offense. But with the Commanders, it took just one half for the 2019 third-round pick to become Washington's best receiver.
As a rookie, McLaurin totaled 919 receiving yards in just 14 games, coming just a handful of yards short of breaking the franchise's rookie record. Yet, McLaurin didn't lose his underdog mindset just because he found instant NFL success.
In his two years since, McLaurin has topped the 1,000-yard in each season despite playing with eight different quarterbacks. He's turned into one of the best young wideouts in the entire sport, evident by his lucrative new deal.
It took a while in McLaurin's football journey to find the success he's had now. The wideout believes that change started when he altered his mindset, focusing more on the things he struggled with on the field than what he excelled in.
"I think what really changed for me, what took my game to the next level was -- I think for a lot of people in general -- I think it's easy to hear the good things about yourself. I think it's easy to hear what you do well, your strengths," McLaurin said. "And I take pride in the strengths in my game, but when my career kind of [took] an upward trajectory is when I started focusing on my weaknesses and trying to make them strengths."
The wideout admitted that he needed to have those "honest and transparent" conversations with coaches as to where they felt he needed to improve the most. But those difficult talks led to him channeling his energy to improve in those certain areas, which led to even more success on the field.
"I started creating drills and attacking those weaknesses to make them strengths. It's nice to see," McLaurin said.
McLaurin might feel that this change in attitude is something new, but his former wide receiver coach at Ohio State, Brian Hartline, has seen it in his for years.
"My first impression [of McLaurin] was there's a lot of things [he] could do," Hartline told NBC Sports Washington in April. "We were going to focus on what he wasn't being optimal in. Once we kind of got that fixed, there were very few things, if any, that Terry couldn't do. I think that that was kind of our mindset. You know, you do a lot of things, but what's holding me back, coach? Let's clean those things up so that no one really has everything that they can point out that Terry doesn’t do. That was a lot of the mindset.”
Speed and strength have always been two of McLaurin's strengths. But dating back to his college days, route running and consistently catching the football were two areas McLaurin had plenty of room for improvement in.
Over the past two seasons, McLaurin's route running has improved dramatically. His breaks have become a lot crisper.
But the one area McLaurin has grown the most as a receiver has been when it comes to hauling in contested catches. McLaurin admitted that area was a "glaring weakness" in his game when he entered the NFL. In 2021, McLaurin led the entire NFL in contested catches.
Talk about turning a weakness into a strength.
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Now that McLaurin has earned a multi-year, lucrative extension, it would be easy for him to become complacent. As he made clear during his Wednesday press conference, very few people believed he would ever become the standout NFL receiver he currently is.
But becoming complacent would go against the mentality McLaurin has channeled throughout his football career. Don't expect his work ethic to change now just because his pockets have become a little heavier.
"A lot of people don't see how far I came from college and to where I am now doing it at the highest level," McLaurin said. "And that's just even more motivation to me to keep going and find ways to continue to improve my game and stay on the cutting edge because I feel like as soon as you get complacent, that's kind of when things start to go downhill for yourself."
A two-time team captain, McLaurin is viewed as one of the Commanders' leaders by all of his teammates. Yet when training camp starts later this month, McLaurin plans on arriving in Ashburn with the same underdog mindset that has gotten him to this point.
"I'm just really excited for what's to come and to continue to get back out there and really go back out there with my day one approach of earning my spot on this team like I was my rookie year," McLaurin said. "I'm trying to earn it all over again. That's genuinely my perspective and how I operate each and every day.”