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Y. placekicker hopes persistence pays off

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PROVO — If Jared McLaughlin weren't so persistent and dedicated to his goal — and if he had listened to his mom — he might have been kicking footballs near his hometown, at Auburn, the program that enjoyed an undefeated season a year ago.

Instead, he opted to serve as an obscure backup kicker at BYU, the program that has experienced three consecutive losing seasons.

"I live about 45 minutes from Auburn," McLaughlin said. "I could have been on a winning team that was tearing it up. They were looking for kickers, too. My mom, even last year, was like, 'Jared, get out of there, come back down here and play.'"

But he wanted to kick for the Cougars. So he decided to wait his turn.

Now, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound junior from Wetumpka, Ala., is the Cougars' starting placekicker (don't confuse him with punter Derek McLaughlin — the two are not related).

"My patience is paying off," Jared McLaughlin said. "My mom recognizes that now. She was supportive, but just not for football. She thought they were giving me the runaround the whole time I was here and that I never got my shot. But how can you, behind Matt Payne? You know?"

Good point. Payne was BYU's placekicker for four straight seasons, and McLaughlin was his backup for three of them. McLaughlin's only varsity experience came a year ago, when he booted a 53-yard kickoff in the Cougars' 49-16 victory over San Diego State.

"He started out as a punter and worked into being a pretty good kicker," said kickers coach Paul Tidwell. "Whether he can do it in front of a crowd in a game situation, or how he's going to do under pressure, we don't know. Here on the field, he's proved that he's been inconsistent. He's got to work on that and be more consistent. I think he's got a lot of potential. He has a strong leg. I think he needs to get a couple of kicks under his belt where he has success in a game situation."

While he was biding his time as Payne's understudy, McLaughlin learned plenty.

"Matt was always giving me pointers, giving me tips, helping me out. I definitely looked at him as I mentor, I guess," he said. "Hopefully I picked up things from him, especially the mental aspect of it."

At Wetumpka High School, McLaughlin played receiver, safety, punter and kicker and earned all-county and all-area honors as a junior and senior. "I was recruited heavily by a bunch of schools down there, but they all knew I was coming to BYU," he said. "It was kind of my goal from the get-go."

McLaughlin took recruiting trips to Alabama and Auburn and had offers from other schools as a kicker. "They didn't like me going on a mission. I had a school that sat me down and was going to offer me a scholarship," he said. "But they asked, 'Are you going to go on one of those two-year missions?' I said, 'Yeah, definitely.' They said, 'Well, look us up when you get back.' I never had my mind really set on going anywhere but BYU."

Following his mission to Brazil, he packed up his car and drove from Wetumpka to Provo to become a walk-on. "BYU had looked at me before, but I wasn't heavily recruited by them because it's a long ways," McLaughlin said. "They knew who I was. I had to learn how to punt just so I could be on the team. I think I was close to being off the team a few of times because they had Matt Payne."

During the 2003 season, he played safety on the scout team.

"I just wanted to be a part of this team," said McLaughlin, who carries a 3.8 GPA in civil engineering. "I worked hard in the weight room and worked hard on the field. They recognized it. They let me take some reps and I worked my way into getting looked at. In the end, my talent is kicking."

"He's just the type of kid that hasn't quit," Tidwell said. "He's done everything to make himself better. His strength right now is his kickoffs. The last four or five days, his kickoffs have really improved. He has come from a long ways. He's done everything we've asked him to. He's a great young man. He's earned a scholarship. I'm happy for him. He's just got to get it done."

McLaughlin says he's ready for the challenge. "It's been three years of hard work. This is my year. It's my time, so I'm going to give it everything I've got."

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com