Redshirt junior tight end Mike O’Laughlin does a lot for the Mountaineers. More often than not, his hard work doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but it does impact the numbers that do. After sustaining an injury after summer workouts, O’Laughlin spent fall camp and the first few games on the sideline.

“Just a stress thing from summer workouts and what not and it just caught up to me at a bad time. Well, really it was a good time because it was right before the season but yeah, it just caught up to me,” O’Laughlin said. “It really was frustrating. Especially since this offseason I focused on my lifting, power, strength, explosiveness — trying to improve that part of my game. So, it was difficult when I found out I was going to be out for a little bit, may miss the first few games, but when that happens, you just have to put your head down, work as hard as you can and help the guys around that are going to be in that position come game time.”

And that’s exactly what he did in the season opener. O’Laughlin admitted he felt helpless standing on the sideline watching his team compete, knowing there was nothing he could do to help, but into the first half, he realized that wasn’t necessarily true.

“I had anxiety about it and wished I could go out there and play. Then there was a switch that went off in my mind — I just have to focus on the guys who are in the game, just aid them as much as possible,” O’Laughlin said. “Whether that’s grabbing them Gatorade because it’s so hot, or getting a towel, or telling them if you see this, try doing this, you know. Just trying to help them out in any way I can because if you do that, at least you are benefitting your team in the position you are in.”

When the Illinois native arrived in Morgantown as a freshman in 2018, he weighed 231 pounds and was used to playing receiver. After stepping inside Mike Joseph’s weight room for a few years, he made the transformation into a tight end. That change in his body allowed his run blocking to truly shine.

“Your body has to evolve. Then as your body evolves, you have to get more comfortable with the mentality of it. One thing I always thought I had was the mentality because even in high school when I was a receiver, it didn’t matter. When I was blocking, I wanted to put him on his back, too.” O’Laughlin said. “I’ve always enjoyed that. I’ve always had the mentality for it but I didn’t have the body when I first got here, especially playing against Big 12 linebackers and defensive ends. There’s a process to that.”

O’Laughlin redshirted in 2018 as he recovered from a knee injury. A year later, he caught six passes for 24 yards. Last year, those numbers increased to 15 receptions for 137 yards and his first career touchdown which came in the Liberty Bowl. Tight ends coach Travis Trickett has been with O’Laughlin since he started recording stats in 2019 and can attest that isn’t the only area he’s grown.

“He’s grown physically, mentally, and from a leadership perspective. We were watching clips from 2019 and it doesn’t even look like the same guy. It’s been really fun to see his maturity and his growth. The thing with Mike, he’s been on a little different journey where he really hasn’t been able to put a full season together yet. It’s been something here or there, so I think Mike O’Laughlin’s best ball is still in front of him,” Trickett said in an exclusive interview for the Neal Brown Show. “We are just scratching the surface of what he is going to be.”

He was on a limited snap count the first few games he was back, but Coach Brown praised O’Laughlin for picking up right where he left off with his blocking, adding he went toe to toe with the Oklahoma defenders. The game after, he reeled in a season-high five catches for 42 yards against the Red Raiders, but when it comes down to it, which would he rather — catching a first down pass or putting someone on their back?

“I get more satisfaction for sure putting someone on their back because putting another man on their back against their will is one of the best feelings on the planet,” O’Laughlin answered.

We’ve seen O’Laughlin have success in multiple areas over the past few years, but this season, it’s his leadership that has been extremely beneficial to the team.

“One of the things I’m focused on right now is setting a good example, not just on the team but in our position room that we are ruthless. We are going to go get ya. That’s what you need at this position. Trevon Wesco did it and I kind of learned from that, and now being in a leadership position in that room, I want to bring that mentality and mindset back to our guys. I want our opponent to know that it isn’t going to be easy facing the Gold and Blue, especially in the tight end room,” O’Laughlin said.

West Virginia is idle this weekend and will return to action on Oct. 23 at TCU.