The Denmark football program, already anticipating the return of practically every player from its promising debut season, just picked up another potential impact talent.
Sophomore Aaron McLaughlin, who started at Class 5A power Buford for the past two seasons and holds scholarship offers from numerous high-major college programs, is now a student at Denmark and plans to join the Danes for the upcoming season. McLaughlin, a 6-foot-4 pro-style quarterback, helped lead the Wolves to a 21-5 overall record in 2017 and 2018 and reached at least the state quarterfinals each time. He was named honorable mention All-Region for Region 8-5A in 2018 and has received offers from Auburn, Michigan and USC, among others.
"We know he's a really, really good football player," Denmark coach Terry Crowder said.
Buford's program recently went through coaching upheaval, which played a role in McLaughlin's family's decision to move to Denmark's district. Wolves head coach John Ford, who was hired from Roswell in January 2017, resigned from that position on Nov. 28. Buford lost 23-20 to Bainbridge in this year's state quarterfinals, which was the first time the program had failed to reach the state semifinals since 2006.
McLaughlin had a close relationship with Ford, and his exit played a significant role in the quarterback's decision to leave that program.
"I went to Buford to play for coach Ford," McLaughlin said. "He's my favorite coach I've ever had."
And the coaching situation at Denmark was a large part of what attracted McLaughlin to Forsyth County's newest traditional high school. The Danes run a pass-first offense, with quarterback Ben Whitlock averaging more than 33 attempts per game in 2018, and have a stable of talented receivers like Ze'Vian Capers, who has also received numerous high-major offers.
That's not to say McLaughlin is guaranteed to be first string at this point. The Danes already have Whitlock, who threw for 2,713 yards with a 49.1 completion percentage last year and had 26 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Crowder anticipates a competition starting up when the team gets back to practicing, and he's already touched base with both players about the situation.
"They'll just compete, and they'll back each other," Crowder said. "I've already brought both of them into the office and had great talks with both of them. They're sitting at the same lunchroom table together during the day. So like I said, competition is always good, and they're going to compete and battle and still going to be Denmark Danes at the end of the day, no matter what happens."
And McLaughlin, despite his prestigious recruiting profile, is in agreement there.
"I don't think you can show up at a place and consider yourself starting." McLaughlin said. "I think you have to earn it and win over the team and coaches."