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Sent on Mormon-News: 25Aug01

By Mark Wright

LDS Punter Starting at U Washington As Freshman

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON -- Many young men preparing to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go off to college for a year or two before leaving for their mission. Some of them even make it to college as student-athletes. Some of them even get to play in a few games during "garbage time." However, few young LDS men play any substantial role in major college athletics prior to serving their missions and many of them never make it as athletes after they return. Enter Derek McLaughlin, a freshman from Mesa, Ariz., currently playing big-time football at the University of Washington.

Not only did McLaughlin make the football team at Washington, he's slated to be the starting punter for the Huskies when they take the field against the defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan Wolverines on September 8th. Interestingly, all this comes even as McLaughlin told the coaches that he could only play football for two years because he would be leaving to serve a mission. The coaches told that was fine with them, they simply want him to be the "go-to" guy for kicking while he's still in town.

McLaughlin may be a freshman, but he knows exactly what he's doing. "I love punting, so that makes it a fun job," he said. "Ever since I was a little kid, my goal was to play college football. I put college football on a pedestal. Now I'm asking myself 'Do I belong here?"' The coaches certainly think so. Coach Rick Neuheisel has watched McLaughlin practice and is confident that McLaughlin can step in and contribute right away. "First impressions are important," Neuheisel said. "He was trying to kick balls to guys to return and he kicked four or five over their heads." McLaughlin, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 190-pounds, averaged 47 yards per punt last year at Mesa's Mountain View High School and booted a 63-yarder.

In addition to his goal of averaging more than 45 yards per punt this season, McLaughlin has an even more important goal in his mind. Serving a mission for his church. While he's aware that many returned missionaries never make it back to their former level of peak athletic performance, McLaughlin is committed to spending two years serving as a missionary. In his eyes, "it will be a good break to step back from football," McLaughlin said. "I'm looking forward to that. You grow a lot and get real-life experience."


Freshman McLaughlin anxious to kick for Huskies
Sporting News (AP) 19Aug01 S2
Associated Press


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