It was Monday, Jan. 10. The two biggest teams in the SEC, the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama, were facing off against one another in the National Championship game. Social media was abuzz with fan posts that swore allegiance to one side or the other. In Buford, Georgia, a town not even 50 miles from Athens, the red and black ties were strong and had fans cheering for the Bulldogs — and the center on Alabama’s offensive line, number 56, Seth McLaughlin.
Word may have spread that a Buford boy was playing for Alabama in the National Championship, but what they may not know is the person behind that jersey or the fantastic young man Seth truly is.
Seth is the son of Suzy and John McLaughlin of Flowery Branch and is the youngest of their three sons: JR, 26, Caden, 24, and Seth, who’ll be 21 in August. He started at Buford High School his freshman year after moving that summer to Georgia with his family from Alcoa, near Knoxville, Tennessee.
I still remember Seth and Suzy walking into the chorus room for the first time at the former BHS during open house before ninth grade. I took one look at him, smiled and said, “I’ll bet you’re here to play football!” To my delight, he was coming in to meet his new chorus teacher and see the room he’d be singing in every day.
His kind, sheepish smile and hope-filled eyes told me there was a tender little boy under all that 6-foot, baby-faced frame of muscles who was thrilled to be noticed and just wanted to make a difference. Four years later, all of Buford knew Seth had made a difference — not just on the field, but in every class he attended.
Coach Nick Saban found out Seth made a difference, too, and came to Buford in December 2019 to recruit Seth to play for the Crimson Tide. Saban visited Seth at school, came to his house to meet the family and offered him the opportunity of a lifetime — a full athletic scholarship to play football for the University of Alabama. In January 2020, Seth graduated from BHS a semester early and enrolled at UA.
Currently a sophomore at the University of Alabama, Seth is a finance major with a concentration in value investing. When he’s not on the practice field or playing for some big title game, he enjoys playing guitar and singing, something he has enjoyed since he was in eighth grade.
“I got into it because my older brother had a guitar, and I wanted to do whatever my older brother was doing,” Seth said.
When he was at BHS, Seth was an ideal representative of the AAA branding. He was a 4.0 student taking AP classes, won a state championship in football and participated in two Variety Shows as a tenor in chorus.
“Football was my main extracurricular area,” said Seth, who started playing the sport when he was 8 years old. “My senior year, our team went on the road in three playoff games and ended up winning state in an overtime comeback.
“Football and weight lifting were most influential for me. The coaches helped me grow so much as a man,” he said.
He not only grew in character and strength, but he also grew physically. No. 58 rounded out his high school career at 6-foot-4, having played football for four years where he was a three-time letterman, state champion, varsity captain and four-time recipient of the team’s Student Scholar Athlete Award.
“I think I was very blessed to have great teachers throughout high school who helped me grow as a student and prepared me well for college,” he said.
Seth fondly remembers his construction classes with Coach Laws and says his favorite teacher was Sean Gilbert, who taught AP world history.
“You could really tell how much he cared about his students’ learning. He really wanted us to be successful in his class and as people,” Seth said.
In Seth, you could say Coach Gilbert had his wish granted; Seth has maintained a 4.0 throughout college and is on track to graduate with his bachelor’s degree just two-and-a-half years since he graduated from BHS. All that, and he still has three years of college eligibility left.
It would seem that Seth is winning the bigger game — life; even more important than stats or grades is the character this young man possesses.
Alabama fans may have watched Seth start the season as a third-string center. Most kids in his position may take it easy and think of themselves as merely the practice squad. Not Seth. He continued to show his heart and work ethic until he got tossed in at half-time of the Alabama/Auburn game. A week later, he was starting the SEC championship game against UGA, then again in the semifinal game against Cincinnati and finally in the National Championship game. Seth didn’t allow a sack in any of his three starts, helped to stabilize the offensive line in the SEC championship game and helped Alabama rush for over 300 yards in the semifinal game.
While it could have been easy to feel defeat and slack off early in the season, Seth’s competitive nature and character drove him to ultimately show tremendous poise on one of the biggest stages — one that freshman player for the Wolves could have only dreamed about, but with a quiet integrity that has been forming his whole life.
“My parents are the most influential people in my life,” Seth said. “They have always provided a loving and supportive house to come home to every day. It is a blessing I am very thankful for. They have truly shaped me into the man I am today.
“I am so thankful for the Buford community,” Seth said. “I would love to go back and experience winning the state championship my senior year. Looking up and seeing Hayden Olsen’s field goal split the uprights and everyone rushing the field is a feeling I will never forget.”
And Buford won’t forget you either, Seth. Regardless of any school colors, we will all be cheering you on — especially in the biggest game of all.