|by Joceyln Hopkinson '15 • September 28, 2012|
The football team’s passing attack has undergone notable personnel changes from last season. Gone are Brady Young ’11, John Horn ’11, and Wes Chamblee ’11, who accounted for 84 percent of the total catches last season. Filling in the void are juniors Sean Hildebrand, Andrew Gibson, and Jon Laird. Laird, however, has stepped up as the team’s go-to receiver. He leads the team in catches and receiving yards and is tied for the lead in touchdowns through the first three games.
“If those are my stats, those are my stats,” Laird said. “I just wanted to come in here and contribute in any way I could. As long as we’re winning and I’m doing my job to help the team achieve its goals I’ll be satisfied.”
The team’s goal, another deep playoff run and ultimately a national title, veered off course last Saturday after a 20-17 overtime loss at home to Allegheny College.
“It wasn’t a particular side of the ball or person that cost us to lose,” Laird said. “We just didn’t come out and execute. Practices haven’t been very good. The intensity is low and that showed on Saturday.”
Laird is able to find the silver lining, despite the uphill battle the team faces.
“Unfortunately, you learn more from a loss than a win,” he said. “The whole season, we haven’t been playing to our potential. Maybe losing to Allegheny will turn it around.”
Laird is in his first semester at Wabash College. He is a majoring in Rhetoric while obtaining a minor in Economics. Laird has been in a whirlwind ever since he started planning his life after Diablo Valley Junior College.
“Last semester was the worst semester in my life,” he said. “In talking with different schools, it was call after call and a scholarship not being this and financial aid not being that. All the jargon and misleading rhetoric was very frustrating.”
Laird played football at Diablo Valley and knew he wanted to continue his collegiate career. He had two more requirements: a school with an excellent academic reputation and a football program that believed in family, team, and community, similar to his high school.
He attended De Le Salle High School in Antioch, CA. The bay-area school happens to be an all-male school, even though there is a sister school across the street. Wabash turned out to be exactly what he was looking for to obtain his degree.
“I wanted my college experience to be like my high school experience,” Laird said. “It was tight-knit community in high school and I wanted to recapture that.”
Even though the team had a need at wide receiver, Laird was the one who contacted Wabash from 2,000 miles away.
“I sent film to every division three school with a football team listed on the Forbes Top 50 Colleges list,” he said. “Wabash was ranked 42nd and it was actually out of the picture until Coach Morel called.”
Don Morel is the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach this season. He is also from the Golden State and had an important effect on Laird’s decision to come here.
“I developed a real good relationship with him,” Laird said. “He sold everything Wabash stands for: the academics, the alumni, and then of course the football program too. Coach Morel was also great at serving as a middle man between my family and the school. My mom and dad trusted him and I trusted him enough to commit here even though I never visited.”
Laird’s first visit to campus was a few days before camp started in August. His father, Tom, drove him all the way out here and stayed a couple of nights before driving back alone. Laird choked up when he shared details about the experience with his father.
“It was an experience I never really had with my dad before,” Laird said. “He opened up to me and talked about how proud he was of me. I have never really seen that side of him.”
Laird’s voice continued to crack when he expressed his appreciation for both of his parents.
“I’m just real grateful for how much my mom and dad have done for me throughout my whole life,” he said. “They’ve made sacrifices to send me to De La Salle and Wabash. They could have told me I’m going to a state school, but they sacrificed for me to go hear and to make an investment in my future. It’s something I greatly appreciate.”
When Laird and his dad arrived in Crawfordsville, he started learning about Indiana and the Midwest. Some things were not as he expected.
“I just thought Indiana was ‘honkey-tonk’ and Nascar,” he said with a chuckle. “I learned Midwesterners are salt-to-the-Earth kind of people and very patriotic. They take life at a slower pace and appreciate the little things. You don’t see that much in California where everything is fast-paced.”
Laird has faced many challenges here, both on and off the field.
“Classes are obviously more difficult here coming from a Junior College,” he said. “I have done a great job managing time though. I’ve learned to seek out advice early in the semester. I know if I do it too late, I won’t be able to catch up with my grades. Professor (Jennifer) Abbot has been especially helpful with my rhetoric papers.”
The mental challenge has presented itself on the field too. Laird had to learn an offense that involves all kind of concepts, hand signals, and different terminology.
“I worked with the freshmen early in camp to learn the playbook and complete orientation tasks,” he said. “It’s a very complex offense and I’m playing different receiver positions. This actually helps because it allows me to absorb the whole offense and have a better understanding of the passing concepts.”
Other offensive players have helped Laird pick up the plays. He’s leaned on them for advice about opponents. When the team travels, Laird shares a room with quarterback Chase Belton.
“Chase has helped me a lot with the offense,” Laird said. “We’re always trying to dissect what plays we can run to expose the defense. It’s great sharing our ideas back and forth. The entire team really has been special. I go into the cafeteria and it doesn’t matter what guys are in Sparks; I’ll sit down and eat dinner with whoever is there. It makes me feel at home.”
Of course, much is different from his home. Laird misses his family the most.
“The biggest thing for me since I’ve been gone is not seeing my mom, dad, and sister after games. I would hug my mom after games and talk to my dad about what happened. It’s tough when I see other families taking pictures with their sons. Even though I’ve developed a close enough relationship with some of these guys and their families that they’ve taken me in like their own, it’s never the same. But I know my family is watching.”
Laird will have a different post-game experience for Wabash’s 100th homecoming game against Carnegie Mellon. His mom, Diana, and sister, Jacqueline, will make the trip over here and be waiting for him with open arms after the contest.