Players of the Pine Belt - Collins senior Markel McLaurin

Players of the Pine Belt - Collins senior Markel McLaurin

COLLINS, MS (WDAM) - Collins High School football coach Eric Booth knows exactly who to turn when his Tigers need a spark on the football field - Markel McLaurin

"Whenever I need a big play, he's the man," Booth said of the 5-foot-11, 174-pound senior. "That young man, he's been a pretty good since I got here. Pretty good ole kid, pretty good athlete, know what I'm saying?  He does what we ask him to do and works hard. He's just a great kid to be around.

"Wherever I need him at, he's going to be there. I know with a guy like that, the defense is going to have a plan for him. So, if they want to double cover him, OK, but I still know he's going to make a play."

McLaurin Collins' "Player of the Pine Belt," made plenty of plays last season for a team that won 10 more games than it had the previous year and was one step away from playing for Class 2A state championship.

McLaurin caught 42 passes from his younger brother, Hershey McLaurin, for 1,059 yards and six touchdowns. Three of his eight punt returns went for touchdowns and he also threw a touchdown pass.

On defense, the cornerback made 37 tackles (32 solo) while picking off a pair of passes and recovering fumble.

"He does everything for us, kick return, punt return, he punts the ball," Booth said. "If I need him to play quarterback, he can do that. If I put him in the Wildcat (formation), he can do that. Everybody's recruiting him at defensive back, but I tell some coaches, he's a good offensive player, too."

McLaurin said he and his brother have a special vibe on the field.

"It's a very special connection," said McLaurin, who moved to receiver last season to make way for Hershey. "He knows he can depend on me to do whatever. If nobody else's got him, I got him."

It was the duo's first year playing together at the high school level and this fall will be the last.

"I'm going to miss him and miss playing with him," McLaurin said. "He's my brother and I love him very much, and I'm going to miss him. Hopefully, we can meet up again in college one day."

Collins went 12-3 last season and won a Region 8-2A crown, ripping off a dozen consecutive victories after dropping the first two games of the year before falling to Taylorsville in the South State title game.

"It was a very big season for us," Booth said. "My first year coming in, we went 2-9, and then last year, people weren't looking for us to be that good."

McLaurin said coming that close to playing for a state championship has been a motivating factor during summer workouts.

"It was very important because we went 2-9 and it was a bad feeling," McLaurin said of the bounce back season. "Then we got our groove back and it felt very good.

"Now, we want to finish off what we left off last year."

The Tigers return a bevy of talent, including seven starters on offense and eight starters on defense.

"I'm going to have the core guys back," Booth said. "So, we'll just have to plug in a couple guys to make the offense click. On defense, I've got to replace my defensive tackle, but we're going to be all right. We're going to be pretty good on both sides of the ball.

"We've got something to shoot for, but we have to work hard. We have to do the little things right."

McLaurin said he knows what's expected of him this fall, even though he will go into each Friday as a marked man for the opposing defense.

"There's a little bit of pressure, but people kind of look up to me, so I've got to do what I've got to do to help the team out," he said. "We're going to go all the way this year. Everybody's getting better, Nobody's been slacking."