Aaron McLaughlin arrived at Denmark to plenty of fanfare.
He leaves the school with more than 3,500 passing yards and 53 total touchdowns in two seasons, leading the Danes to the playoffs each season.
McLaughlin, the 2020 Forsyth County News Offensive Player of the Year, completed 107 of 184 passes for 1,505 yards and 21 touchdowns with seven interceptions this season.
Denmark’s 6-foot-5, 219-pound gunslinger also led the team in rushing, carrying the ball 131 times for 652 yards and six touchdowns in nine games.
McLaughlin, an early enrollee at NC State, missed the first two games of the season because of a shoulder injury and played through a hamstring injury during the final four games.
But when McLaughlin was healthy, Denmark’s offense seemed unstoppable.
McLaughlin threw for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Lanier during his first game of the season, then tossed three more scores and ran for 167 yards the following week against North Forsyth.
McLaughlin broke the century mark on the ground twice more before the injury hampered his ball-carrying ability. He rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns against Lambert and had a season-high 219 rushing yards against South Forsyth.
McLaughlin’s legs were the difference during the Danes’ 36-22 win against South.
"We were in the right place a lot. We just couldn't tackle him," South head coach Jeff Arnette said after the game. "We had them all spying him, but it didn't work. We just couldn't tackle him. I don't even know what else to say. We were there over and over and over, but they just couldn't make the play."
McLaughlin and the Danes were at their best during an Oct. 23 win against Lambert. McLaughlin torched the opposing defense with the deep ball, completing 9 of 12 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns and accounting for nearly 400 yards and six touchdowns before coming out of the game in the fourth quarter.
"We needed to do it to win and it worked. I enjoy it," McLaughlin said last month during his signing ceremony. "I pulled my hamstring, so toward the end I couldn't really run much, but when I did it worked.”
McLaughlin wasn’t able to run after the South game.
Still, the following week represented a must-win game against Gainesville that would turn the Danes’ regular-season finale against West Forsyth into a region championship game.
McLaughlin responded by completing 12 of 17 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns, helping Denmark to a 24-21 victory.
After a loss to West, Denmark won its first playoff game in school history, a decisive 63-0 victory against Discovery that saw McLaughlin throw for 220 yards and five touchdowns on 17-of-25 passing in what proved to be the final home game of the season.
"Every Friday night, winning at home is really fun," McLaughlin said at the signing. "I think that's definitely my favorite part of it. I can't think of one certain thing, but Friday nights playing at home is definitely the best thing about it."