MORGANTOWN — Without even knowing it, WVU tight end Mike O’Laughlin was the target for quarterback JT Daniels on the final possession last week at Pitt.
Daniels, who rolled to his right, was pointing at O’Laughlin to break off his route and get up the field for a big play.
O’Laughlin claims, though, he didn’t even see Daniels signaling to him. Luckily for both, they had the same idea at the same time, as O’Laughlin broke loose up the field and got open as Daniels found him for a 32-yard completion.
“It was scramble drills, kind of a broken play,” O’Laughlin said. “I could kind of see with my peripheral vision there was grass behind. I knew if I could get a first down and stop the clock, we could keep going. I kind of broke the defenders arm bar, he was trying to lock me up, and JT just found me toward the sideline.”
The end result of the drive wasn’t what WVU was looking for, unable to score and falling to the Panthers 38-31 at Acrisure Stadium, even being on the field is considered a win
Battling injuries his whole career, O’Laughlin suffered his second knee injury during last season’s TCU game in October and missed the rest of the season. The recovery and rehab process extended all the way through fall camp, to the point it was unsure whether he’d play against Pitt.
With about two weeks to go before the opener, O’Laughlin began contact drills for the first time in 10 months and was able to cut on his knee, so he got the go-ahead to play.
“I knew I wanted to be out there and play again, so that never stopped me,” O’Laughlin said. “I knew I had to go to a kind of dark place to do it. I got back in nine months and a week. They said it would take 11 months. I was really excited to play in this Pitt game. I wanted to play with those boys, with this team and I was able to do that, so I was really happy.”
O’Laughlin knew right away he was going to go through rehab again to get back on the field, but there were a few whispers around him who weren’t quite as sure.
Already a fifth-year player, some thought O’Laughlin should simply hang it up and call it a career.
“When you have a second major injury like that, you look at things a little different, that’s for sure,” he said. “That kind of just comes to you. You don’t really have a choice, you just kind of look at things a little differently. I look at it like this: The first time you get knocked down, those people around you are telling you to get up. They want you to be great. But the second time you get knocked down, those close loved ones tell you stay down. They know you’re hurt.”
While he’s able to play, O’Laughlin said the consistent pain from tendonitis is a friendly reminder of what he’s been through, and the old adage that he can tell when it’s about to rain is true.
Head coach Neal Brown said if you watch the first half against Pitt, you can tell there was a lot of rust that needed knocked off O’Laughlin’s back, but with his important catch, he is ready to continue — and stay healthy — the rest of the season.
“We’re looking at Kansas. We’re looking to attack. This football team is really hungry. We will take that into Kansas, a conference opponent,” he said.
The Mountaineers and Jayhawks will kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium. The game will be aired on ESPN+.