McFeely: Time For Valley, FCS To Give Youngstown State’s McLaughlin Some Love – InForum

FARGO – Annual awards are not for lifetime achievement. Were aware. But Jaleel McLaughlin did enough in 2022 that the Youngstown State running back doesn’t have to stand on what he’s done over the course of his five-year college career.

But as Missouri Valley Football Conference and Football Championship Subdivision voters submit their prize ballot in the coming days, let’s offer some unsolicited advice.

Give McLaughlin the love he deserves. For this year and his career. Vote him for Valley Offensive Player of the Year and give him enough votes to be one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Award so he can travel to Frisco, Texas and be honored at the Friday night banquet before the championship game.

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound North Carolina running back is quite literally the player with the most rushing yards in NCAA history.

That number now stands at 8,161 yards.

Yes, McLaughlin has played five seasons thanks (or no thanks) to COVID and the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted for it. Yes, McLaughlin compiled more than 4,700 of those Division II yards while playing two seasons for Notre Dame College in North Carolina.

McLaughlin averaged 2,369 yards per season at Notre Dame College.

But 8,000 yards is 8,000 yards, and McLaughlin’s excelled with Youngstown State in FCS’ best defensive conference. In three seasons with the Penguins, he rushed for 3,424 yards in 28 games. That includes the truncated COVID season, which saw the Penguins play just seven times.

This is all regular season. The Penguins haven’t played a postseason game in McLaughlin’s career because they weren’t doing well until this season.

They’re better this season, 7-4 and in the mix for a playoff berth, and McLaughlin’s led the way. He has rushed for a valley-high 1,588 yards on 227 carries to equal the league-best 7.0 yards. Those numbers far surpass league No. 2 rusher, South Dakota State’s Isaiah Davis, who admittedly has far less carry and has a smaller role in the Jackrabbits’ much better and more varied offense.

NCAA Football: Youngstown State in Kentucky
Youngstown State Penguins running back Jaleel McLaughlin (8) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Kentucky Wildcats last week at Kroger Field.

Jordan Prather/USA TODAY Sports

Even so, Davis has 932 rushing yards in 10 games, 656 fewer than McLaughlin.

McLaughlin averages 144.36 yards per game compared to Davis’s 93.20. Combined with his receiving, McLaughlin leads the Valley in all-purpose yards at 171.64 per game.

He had four 200+ and 150+ ground games against North Dakota State in Fargo.

These are POY numbers. Is Davis the defensive back who has the size, speed and potential to play in the NFL? Yes. Is McLaughlin having a better season? Indeed.

It’s a year where there isn’t a league quarterback that stands above the rest, unlike the past three when North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, South Dakota State’s Mark Gronowski and Missouri State’s Jason Shelley are pretty clear players of the year were.

Shelley was good again for Missouri State, but the Bears were bad and Shelley couldn’t save them like they did in 2021. Gronowski was good too and plays for the conference champion, but he wasn’t flashy.

Theo Day from Northern Iowa recorded great numbers and Nic Baker from Southern Illinois was mostly excellent. Both should and will get some votes, but neither has carried their team anywhere.

There are no receivers blowing the lid off the league, SDSU standout tight end Tucker Kraft has missed too many games, and NDSU All-American Fullback/Unicorn Hunter Luepke hasn’t provided the numbers to consider. Luepke was also injured at the end of the year.

It could be argued that NDSU left-winger Cody Mauch deserves consideration for the award, as did UNI’s Trevor Penning last season. Mauch was as dominant on the offensive as anyone at FCS. Only one force for bison world class running game. But…he’s an offensive lineman.

The panel of coaches, sports information directors and media that decides the All-Conference teams and individual awards has one job to do – vote McLaughlin for POY.

The Payton Award is a bit trickier. Voters are spread across the country and, frankly, they’re not going to be thrilled by a running back on a 7-4 Youngstown State team that gained 1,588 yards. The payton is usually a hype, a gigantic award. Quarterbacks who throw for a zillion yards (with the exception of Lance, who I’m convinced only won the payton by not throwing for interception) always have the advantage.

That means Jackson State’s Shadeur Sanders, Incarnate Word’s Lindsay Scott and Fordham’s Tim DeMorat are likely to command the most attention from national voters.

Scott has thrown for 3,791 yards and 50 TDs. DeMorat is thrown for 4,561 yards and 53 touchdowns. Sanders has thrown for 3,083 yards and 32 TDs, and he plays for media favorite Jackson State and is the son of head coach Deion Sanders. That would be prime time. Had a notable NFL career and dabbled in MLB.

All three play on well-performing teams — albeit in less-than-strong conferences — and UIW and Fordham are playoff teams. Jackson State will participate in the HBCU national championship game.

That makes it difficult for McLaughlin. But if ever there was a time to give a player a lifetime achievement push, it would be now. Even though McLaughlin isn’t first on voters’ ballots, he could be third. Give him a chance. Allow the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher to garner some attention in Frisco and be honored as someone who rushed for 8,161 yards (and maybe more if the Penguins win a playoff game or two).

It’s tough, I get it. But McLaughlin should certainly be MVFC Offensive Player of the Year, with a Payton finalist as possible icing on the cake.

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