When you open up Ohio State record books and turn to some of the all-time rushing records, you will find Pete Johnson atop the school’s career rushing touchdown list with an astounding 56 total that was set back in 1976. That mark outpaces the likes of Buckeye legends Keith Byars (46), Eddie George (44) and Ezekiel Elliot (43).
With that rich tradition, Ohio State has boasted a long line of astounding rushers for the Buckeye state. Hidden amongst a talented Division II program at Notre Dame College, running back Jahleel McLaughlin has quietly put together statistics that would rival the in-state Buckeyes’ all-timers. McLaughlin has rushed for 4,737 yards on the ground, including 48 touchdowns on his own resume.
The kicker: McLaughlin accomplished both those numbers in just two collegiate seasons.
For the math nerds out there: that is 9,474 yards and 96 touchdowns in a four-year sample size for McLaughlin, shattering former Chadron State running back Danny Woodhead’s current yardage mark of 7,962. That projection of course is in a perfect world. If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, nothing is certain.
Many put their attention to how the pandemic would affect the FBS and NFL ranks, not considering how the lower levels had barely an opportunity to survive amongst the steep financial demands for suitable testing protocols.
The Division II level never had much of a chance. For players, a harsh reality set in. From there, individuals were forced to make decisions that would be best for themselves, their health and their collegiate careers.
“It was very challenging,” McLaughlin recalled. “We were in our second day or Spring practice and we knew at any point that it could be taken away from us.”
This would be a huge moment for Notre Dame College football, with an official delay until the Spring. For McLaughlin, opportunity would spring from a tough situation and suddenly - his Falcons career was officially over. A situation that had cost so much for so many did offer McLaughlin an opportunity that had once alluded him; a chance to compete on the Division I level.
Next stop: The Transfer Portal.
A bittersweet moment, McLaughlin reminisced about his beginnings at Notre Dame College and how much that experience meant to him.
“Being at Notre Dame was a blessing each and every day.”
Originally a three-sport star at Forest Hills High School in Marshville, North Carolina, McLaughlin once had aspirations of competing in multiple sports during his college career. A part of both the school’s basketball and track and field programs at Forest Hills, while also starring on the gridiron, McLaughlin would claim state championships both on the track and hardwood.
In fact, McLaughlin’s first introduction to the Notre Dame football program would be directly after putting work on in a different arena.
“I visited Notre Dame College right after a basketball game.”
For the North Carolina kid, there was a feeling once he stepped foot on campus. A lot try to put that “moment” into words but for most, it’s something that can’t quite be quantified into words. McLaughlin did his best.
“The family atmosphere immediately sold me.”
The opportunity that the Falcons presented was more than enough for McLaughlin. The atmosphere captured him. One word kept being reiterated by the dynamic runner - blessing. For a player who had already accomplished so much, you could hear how much his time in South Euclid had meant and the difficulty that decision was.
As you can imagine for a player of McLaughlin’s talent and resume, a lot of interest ensued during his time in the Transfer Portal. Of that interest, he would receive three official offers to continue to his academic and athletic career.
Of those offers, McLaughlin would ultimately decide to stay up north in the Buckeye state, a place that had become a very special place for him and transfer to Youngstown State University.
“Ohio has done nothing but treat me well.”
The Penguins offered McLaughlin that opportunity. Opportunity to continue with an athletic and academic career. Opportunity to continue to make Ohio proud and the chance to play Division I football on the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level.
Scheduled to get on campus in Youngstown sometime early in January, McLaughlin understands that the work is just beginning. There is a lot to prove for the Division II star to show that his talents can transcend his perceived lack of competition level.
Again for Jaleel, the same word is uttered when discussing the opportunity at hand. “It is a blessing from God to have the opportunity to prove I belong.”
This Spring, expect Youngstown State to have an influx of talent in their backfield. McLaughlin brings a level of speed and playmaking ability that the Penguins have been missing recently. Expect an immediate impact from a 5-9 180 pound junior who is no stranger to a high volume of touches.
McLaughlin’s impact is not strictly limited to the football field. It did not take long to realize that there was a deeper impact for this dynamic playmaker to have. For as special of a player he is, that does not encapsulate the type of person McLaughlin is.
“I want everyone to know that whatever size, level of play, anything, that God has a plan.”
Continuing to prove the doubters wrong, McLaughlin is ready for the next challenge. Without even playing a snap, he is the perfect example of what hard work and perseverance can do. The old moniker “if you can play, they will find you”, resonates perfectly in Division II All American. No matter what his experience at Youngstown State brings, McLaughlin has already put his stamp on the college football world.
That is not what is currently on McLaughlin’s mind, however. It is all about what is next. With clear eyes and an understanding of what is next, there is a clear goal at hand.
“I just want to inspire people and be an asset to the team.”