Even though scholarship offers are going out earlier and earlier every year, it's still rare for a player to pick up offers before he stepped foot on a high school campus. Saying that, Aaron McLaughlin is no ordinary 8th grader.
McLaughlin is a player we've been watching for the last three years as he has attended QB Coach Steve Clarkson's Trendsetters QB Camp over Memorial Day weekend and has always impressed. In fact, McLaughlin has worked out with the top group of upperclassmen and college quarterbacks and fit right in.
To say he has unlimited upside is an understatement. At 6-5, 215 pounds, McLaughlin already has next level tools in terms of his arm talent, poise, athleticism and football IQ. He can make every throw on the field right now, is strong mechanically with a tight release and pure throwing motion and has the ability to make plays with his legs as well.
"He might be the most gifted young quarterback I've seen," Clarkson said. "He's so advanced at a young age and is a very mature kid as well. When people see him throw and then find out how young he is, they can't believe it. He's a prodigy, everyone can see that.
"I'll tell you who he reminds me of, a young John Elway. I played with John and his dad coached me as well and there are a lot of similarities there. When you look at their throwing motion, it's almost identical and I even googled some old photos to compare. Elway was a tremendous athlete and so far ahead of everyone else in his era and that's how Aaron is. I know that's a lofty comparison to make but having seen John up close at the same stage, I have no problem making it."
It's hard to believe the signal caller still has four more years to develop before he hits a college campus but it's easy to see he'll be among the most coveted prospects, regardless of position, in the class of 2021.
On the recruiting front, McLaughlin landed his first offer a year ago from Georgia State and Missouri was his first FBS offer last June. Florida Atlantic, Indiana, Mississippi and Texas A&M all offered as well and on Saturday, UCLA threw their hat in the ring while McLaughlin was on an unofficial visit.
"I had a great visit, loved it there," McLaughlin said. "I camped with UCLA the last two years so I had already visited and seen the campus. I come out to Southern CA a lot to train with Steve (Clarkson) and it's beautiful, UCLA is in one of the locations in the world.
"I spent about an hour and a half there talking with Coach Fisch and Coach Mora. I already knew Coach Fisch becauseI camped at Michigan last year. I had DMed him after he got the job at UCLA and he can't DM me back since I'm in 8th grade so he hit up Steve and we connected that way. We talked for a good 30 mins and then my dad and I met with Coach Mora and that's when I got the offer."
McLaughlin said he had a feeling the offer was coming but it was still a big deal for him.
"Yeh, I was blown away," McLaughlin said. "Steve told me they wanted to offer me but to actually get the offer from a great school like UCLA was incredible. My dad and I both enjoyed talking with Coach Mora. We didn't even talk much football, just talked about life and got to know each other.
"UCLA is a great academic school, I like the offense they're putting in and I think Josh (Rosen) is going to have a big year this season. I was able to talk with him a little on the trip and that was cool. We know each other from working out with Steve last summer. Overall, it was a great trip and I'm definitely considering UCLA but it's so early for me, I don't have any leaders and have no plans to cut my list down any time soon."
McLaughlin will likely take several more visits over the spring/summer as well.
"I'm going to camp with USC again," McLaughlin said. "I've been there a few times and really like it there. They have a great program and I like what Coach Helton is doing. Georgia is showing interest and that's close to home so I plan to visit there a lot and camp with them.
"I've been to Ole Miss, A&M and FAU already and I'm going to camp with Alabama this summer. I actually just talked to Coach Sumlin at A&M two weeks ago and he's a great guy. I'm going to visit there again and want to get to Indiana and Missouri. Missouri offered me at a Satellite Camp last year but I haven't visited the campus yet so I want to do that for sure. I'll visit and camp with UCLA again as well.
"Right now, my main focus is on winning the starting job at Buford next year. I'm going to enjoy the visits and camps for sure but working out with my high school comes first. I'll have plenty of time to focus on recruiting but right now, I'm just going to stay open to everyone and enjoy the process."
To see McLaughlin in action from this past season, check out his 8th grade highlights below: