Photo/Zac Chamblee

Eric Booth saw Division I ability early in Markel McLaurin. Shortly after taking the reigns of Collins’ football program three years ago, Booth moved McLaurin from quarterback to wide receiver. He burst onto the scene there and at defensive back his junior year in 2017, putting that ability on full display. 

It earned him scholarship offers from junior colleges and universities from across the state, including Booth’s alma mater, Southern Miss. On Sunday, McLaurin took the Golden Eagles up on their offer and announced his verbal commitment to the program. Three days later, he made it official and put pen to paper during the early signing period. 

“I’m proud of the kid,” Booth said of McLaurin. “I stayed on him the last three years, telling him to keep his grades up and do the right things, because the eye in the sky don’t lie. That kid there, that’s a good kid.”

For a little while after Collins’ season came to an end, McLaurin was unsure the day would come. He suffered a torn meniscus in the Tigers’ second round playoff matchup with St. Joseph Catholic, and he feared the injury would hold him back. 

“When I got hurt, I thought everything was gonna take a downfall,” McLaurin said. “But it didn’t. I just prayed and prayed, everything turned out ok.

“This is a very special day. I never thought it would come at this point, but it did. I give all the thanks and glory to God.”

McLaurin finished his senior season at Collins as the Tigers’ leading wide receiver, compiling 37 receptions for 867 yards and nine touchdowns. All indications are, though, that he’ll play in the defensive backfield at Southern Miss. That’s perfectly fine to McLaurin, who picked off a team-high four passes in 2018. 

“That was the only thing I wanted to do at the next level,” McLaurin said. “I feel like holding somebody instead of somebody holding me. I’d love to play offense too, though.”

In anybody can do that, it’s McLaurin, according to Booth. 

“He can play on both sides of the ball, whatever USM needs him at,” Booth explained. “He can be on special teams on kickoff return or punt return. He can be on the offensive side and be a good inside receiver for them. On the defensive side, he can be a good cornerback or free safety. It all depends on where they want to use him at.

“He’ll get down there and fit in good with them. He’ll get on the weights and do his part. He may go down there and start next year. He’s got the opportunity, just gotta put the work in before that.”