Terry McLaurin finally has his tackle box set up exactly the way he wants it. The minnow hard baits are all the way to the right along with the soft plastic swimbaits, just above the spinners. The split shot weights are in the middle and the scissors are in a long compartment at the bottom.
Learning to live without a bobber, he says, has been revelatory.
On this summer afternoon at the start of Washington’s pre-training camp COVID testing period, McLaurin is in the process of getting his entire setup shipped to him in Virginia—all the rods and extraneous fishing minutiae that his girlfriend told him he was buying too much of. He’s still poring over fishing tutorials on YouTube and Instragram hoping that, soon, he’ll be able to get connected to some professional bass fisherman in the D.C. area. Feel free to send him a direct message, he says. He’s willing to exchange an afternoon on a boat talking football for some real expert angling advice.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a big nature person, like camping and hiking,” he said. “But fishing, you’re just there. I’m so focused on fishing, it takes my mind off of everything else. Reflecting, really. All of your cares go away.”
It’s important to know that McLaurin is both allergic to seafood and prone to seasickness, which is why fishing seems like an odd passion for a breakout star receiver to develop during a summer of isolation. Then again, nothing is typical with McLaurin, who, after being the 12th receiver taken in the 2019 draft, outperformed nearly everyone taken ahead of him while playing in a markedly worse offense. Only A.J. Brown finished ahead of McLaurin in total yards and touchdowns among rookies last year. Foootball Outsiders’ Defensive Yards above Replacement, which takes into account the opposing defense among other things, rated him one of the best 13 receivers in all of football, right behind Tyreek Hill and ahead of mainstays like Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams.
And as he prepares for a second season with heightened expectations, he’s had time to reflect on his expedited rise and why he always felt he was better than advertised coming out of the draft.
“At Ohio State, I felt like I was a No. 1 wide receiver, I really did feel like that. A lot of people didn’t see that because there was only one ball to go around at Ohio State. We had Parris Campbell, Curtis Samuel, Mike Thomas, Ezekiel Elliott, we had so many different guys. But I’ve always been a guy who made the most of his opportunities.”
And why he’s a No. 1 receiver in the NFL …
“I really believe I’m a No. 1 in the NFL. I feel like obviously we had a lot going on with our team last year but I never used that as an excuse. I always used that as a motivation factor to control what I can control. I can’t control who the quarterback is going to be. I can’t control the offense. But I can control my film study and performance on Sunday.”
And why Dwayne Haskins is poised to rebound from a less certain rookie season …
“I’ve been around Dwayne since he’s come to Ohio State, so I’ve known him for a while and he’s going to be the first to tell you that he’s not making any excuses for last year. The way he’s attacked this offseason has been different than I’ve ever seen him attack football. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t working hard, it’s just a different kind of focus. He lost some really good weight, he put on some muscle. He just looks really good. Hungry. I feel like coming from Ohio State, everything was great. He was the Big 10 record holder of this and that. It was all peaches and roses and now you hit a little adversity and you gotta step back and readjust. I feel like he’s done that. This offense is going to be great for him and me.”
He was open about his offseason goal, to refine his foot and ankle flexibility to aid in his change of direction, and how he’ll most likely embody the role in new coordinator Scott Turner’s offense that D.J. Moore did a year ago in Carolina.
But mostly, he’d like to talk about fishing, because it might be doing more than anything to make him a better wide receiver.
McLaurin first went on a fishing trip with his uncle as young child and remembers struggling to wake up in the predawn hours to get out in the boat. Fast forward to this offseason, where he was standing in a friend’s backyard pond in Indianapolis when he was approached by a man who was watching from a distance but saw McLaurin making a few rookie mistakes.
After some adjustments, he landed a fistful of catfish, the first of more than 20 fish he bagged this offseason (he normally throws them back, unless a friend he’s with wants to cook them for dinner). At least three times a week he was leaving his offseason training center in Carmel, Ind., to search for a good fishing spot.
The most important thing he learned: You can have all the right equipment but until you work the bait the correct way, and master the subtleties of the rod, you’re not going to be able to catch any fish. He thought about this a lot during the offseason, along with the concept of patience and how it relates to both fishing and football. The parallels were pretty obvious. There can be a peculiarity in the defense that forces targets away from you all game before a breakthrough.
“You can be out there all day and not get a bite,” McLaurin said. “And in my line of work, you can be working for your opportunity and it may never come or it may not be the opportunity you thought. It doesn’t mean you quit working hard, whether that’s catching a fish or catching a touchdown.”
He likes fishing because, in the absence of football, it helped him notice the daily micro improvements. How he’s getting better every day. Once his tackle box arrives in Virginia and he polls his teammates to find out who has the best fishing hideaways, McLaurin said he’ll continue to utilize the hobby as a stress reliever and grounding activity. There's a good chance his teammates notice how much better he's gotten catching fish before catching footballs. Both will be a welcome sight.
• Question or comment? Email us.