In the Trenches with Derek McLaughlin

Nov. 20, 2002

Perhaps the most maligned Husky in 2002, punter Derek McLaughlin endured criticism from the media and fans after a miserable start to his 2002 season. McLaughlin - who posted one of the top seasons by a punter in UW history as a true freshman last season, averaging 41.2 yards per punt - managed just 36.6 yards per punt through the season's first nine games, subjecting the sophomore to ridicule even from fellow schoolmates, who occasionally took time out while walking on the UW campus to remind the punter just how poorly his season was going. Over the past two weeks, though - both Husky wins - McLaughlin has been booming punts from Seattle to Eugene, including an 80-yarder in last weekend's win over the Ducks that broke his own school record of 74 yards, and was tied for the eighth-longest punt in Pac-10 history. The end of McLaughlin's second year, which hopefully will be postponed into December should the Huskies earn a bowl invitation, will mark a significant point in the sophomore's life. The Mesa, Ariz., native plans to begin his three-year Mormon mission in 2003, and return to the Huskies for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Back on track, and with much more than just the Apple Cup ahead of him, McLaughlin sat down with to look back, and forward. Against Oregon, in a swirling wind and rain, you had one of the best games of your career. Two punts were downed inside the five-yard line, four stopped inside the 15, and one went for 80 yards! What were your thoughts after that game?
Derek McLaughlin: 'My first thought is that we won, and everything else is just the icing on the cake. I'm happy as a clam that I punted well, and I'm happy as a clam that we won - when those two things happen together, it's great. It's one thing to kick well and lose, and it's another thing to kick poorly and win, but when you kick well and win, you're on cloud nine; it's the coolest thing ever.'

GH: You've had two solid weeks in a row, but before the Oregon State game you were having a lot of problems. What changed for you against the Beavers?
McLaughlin: 'One of the biggest things that happened was that my foot got better. I was having foot problems midway through the season, where my foot would swell up and bruise when I would kick in practice. I'd warm up and I'd be okay, but toward the end of warm-ups my foot would start swelling and I could feel it inside my shoe, so when I would kick it, it would be really painful. That was really tough. It was like that until after the UCLA game. It finally started feeling better, and now I can go out to practice like I usually do, and get back to what I've been doing for the past two years - four years, I guess, including high school. Finding that rhythm and getting back to the basics really affected me in a positive way.'

GH: For the first punt of the OSU game, Coach Neuheisel benched you in favor of John Anderson. Did that chip away at your insides at all?
McLaughlin: 'At first, it really deflated me; it really took the wind out of my sail. When someone tells you you're performing so poorly, to the point where you're not going to play ... well, it just deflated me for two or three days. I called my dad and told him about it and he said, 'Well, you have one of two options: you can fold, or you can get to work.' I chose to get to work. John's a great punter; I was really worried I wouldn't get my job back because of how good of a punter he really is. He's got a really strong leg and when he's hitting the ball well, he kills it. It was a little windy on his punt, and the wind took the ball across his foot, and he popped it out of bounds. As much as I wanted John to kick well, inside I was kind of happy because I was going to get a shot to play again. I knew I had to capitalize on the opportunity to play. I had the attitude that these are the last games I have here because I'm going on my mission pretty soon, and so I have to make the most of them. I hope I get to finish that out this weekend and, hopefully, in a bowl game.'

GH: It was windy when John punted, but it's always windy in Husky Stadium. You've seemed to be able to deal with that better than many punters who have braved the Montlake breezes. What's the trick to punting well in poor conditions?
McLaughlin: 'The same is true of Autzen Stadium, actually; they're both fairly windy. John, being a field goal kicker, has a tendency to swing across his body with his leg, and so when you drop the ball, there's a difference in your leg swing. When you come across it [for a field goal] you have to hit it exactly right, otherwise it can either go off the inside or the outside part of your foot and be shanked. For me, I kick straight, so the ball just has to fall correctly on my foot. John had to plan out two things, and what happens is when John dropped the ball, the wind moved the ball back out across his foot. That happened at Autzen on my second punt, which is exactly what happened to John - same yardage and everything. In Husky Stadium the wind swirls a lot, and it changes direction as you go up in the stadium. You try to gauge the wind from where you're actually kicking, but once you've kicked, you can watch the ball actually change directions as it's going through the air. The hardest thing to do is just figure out what's going on.'

GH: How do you figure all that stuff out?
McLaughlin: 'By practicing here everyday and learning the tendencies of the stadium. Once you do that, you can kind of figure out what's going on. You adjust your drop and keep your swing the same. Adjusting your drop is really all you can do as a punter to be able to work in different wind conditions.'

GH: You are leaving on your mission after this year. For those of us who may not be familiar with all that a mission entails, please talk a little about what kind of work you expect to be doing.
McLaughlin: 'I want to go somewhere in South America, but I'm not sure where I'm going yet. Before I even started playing football, I decided I needed to go on a mission. When football started going well and I started to be recruited, I had to think, 'Do I still want to go on a mission?' My high school coach said even if I decided to, I shouldn't tell the recruiters, because a lot of schools would drop out and wouldn't recruit me. I felt like I needed to be honest, though, because honesty is the best policy, and so I told everyone who called, 'You can recruit me and I'll come play football for you, but I'm going to go on my mission.' Just like my coach had predicted, three quarters of the schools calling me dropped off at that point and didn't call me ever again. Coach Neuheisel called, though, and when I told him I really wanted to go on a mission he said he was O.K. with that as long as I played for two seasons. If anything now, I need even more to go on a mission. After experiencing Husky football and all of the other things that have happened, I understand the blessings that have come to me from God. This whole entire Husky experience has been a huge blessing, and I need to show my devotion to Him by going on a mission and serving Him for three years.'

GH: After those three years, do you plan to return to UW?
McLaughlin: 'Absolutely, I'll be back here. Definitely.'

GH: So if you go on your mission to say, Quito, Ecuador, will you bring a bag of footballs with you?
McLaughlin: (smiles) 'Oh, yeah. I'll go down there and I'll have one day a week called a 'P Day,' a preparation day, when I'll get to do my laundry and other stuff. I'll kick the football around a little bit, and play a football game with some little kids or something. I'll figure something out to keep up my flexibility, and make sure I don't forget how to punt. Hopefully, Coach Neuheisel will hold my scholarship for me, but if he doesn't, I'll walk on and try to earn my scholarship back. I'm just going to play it by ear. I'm definitely coming back to the University.'

GH: To put it into your own words, it sounds like you're 'happy as a clam!' That's one I've never understood. What is it that makes clams so happy?
McLaughlin: (laughs) 'I don't know, it's some idiomatic expression. I have no idea where it's from. Maybe it's because their clam shells are just smiling all the time. I don't know.'

GH: Hey, good answer to an obscure question! Let's try another: are you more of a macaroni salad or potato salad kind of guy?
McLaughlin: 'Definitely potato salad. I think that the macaroni salad tastes ... well, the texture of it is a little slimy. I definitely go with the potato salad, just for texture.'

GH: Texture, huh? What about when people throw eggs in it - does that upset the balance?
McLaughlin: 'Actually, I think the hard-boiled eggs add to it a little bit, but I'm more of a straight potato salad man myself.'

GH: This is the kind of thing that Chandler and Joey could argue about for an entire episode of 'Friends.' Are you kind of bummed that 'Friends' is in its final season?McLaughlin: 'What kills me is that 'Friends' has been in its final season for the past three seasons. The way I see it, everyone has pretty much slept with everyone else. Thus,there's no more story line, so 'Friends' has to end.'

GH: So is NBC just blowing smoke by marketing this season of 'Friends' as the 'final' season?
McLaughlin: 'I think they are. People are like, 'Oh it's the final season, I'd better watch it!' It's been the final season three or four times before. I stopped watching it a while ago.' correspondent Steve Hitchcock contributed to this report.

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