BLACKSBURG – At the end of the first day of practice, Tech’s players were running as part of their conditioning, and offensive tackle Jon McLaughlin was struggling.
The true freshman was dealing with cramps in his hamstring and that made getting his 313 pounds to the finish line difficult. At 313, he ranks as the second-heaviest Hokie behind Parker Osterloh’s 318.
Yet McLaughlin dragged his leg across the line – and he actually made it in the prescribed time, too. Afterward, players and coaches, including Bud Foster, ran up to him to congratulate him for not quitting.
“I wanted to finish it and show my teammates that finishing things is important,” McLaughlin said. “This is a big season for us. Even though I was cramping, I still finished it up with the help of Brent [Benedict] and [Mark] Shuman [who were encouraging him]. When you’re hurt, you have to push through it sometimes. I think I earned the respect of some of them. They were telling me, ‘Good job. Way to finish it out.’ Some of the coaches were telling me that. Even though I was cramping, sometimes you have to do that [finish].”
The depth chart on the offensive line changes daily, and right now, only Andrew Miller is probably guaranteed a starting spot. But McLaughlin may be the next safest bet.
McLaughlin would be the first true freshman to start on the offensive line in a season opener since Sergio Render started at right guard in 2006. He’d first true freshman to start any game at left tackle under Beamer. Jimmy Martin started as a freshman at right tackle in 2002, but that wasn't until the eighth game of the season so McLaughlin would be the first true freshman to start the first game of the season at tackle under Beamer.
He spent last fall at Fork Union and then enrolled at Tech in January for the spring semester. His time at Fork Union and being able to go through spring practice helped put him in position to play this season.
But he won’t exactly be eased into his role considering the Hokies open against No. 1 Alabama.
“Oh yeah, I’m real excited about it,” he said. “Right now, I’m just trying to learn everything and get my steps down and footwork right. And then I’ll just go from there.
“That’s the biggest challenge a guy can get. If you can do well against the best team in the country, you can play against anybody. They’re the best team in the country. They have really good d-ends and d-tackles. If we match up well against them, it’ll be a really good season.”
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