By John Vargo
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Jaleel McLaughlin’s accomplishments last season include rushing for 1,139 yards and 12 touchdowns and receiving Missouri Valley Football Conference and national honors.
The Youngstown State University Penguins senior running back has been named to the top 1,000 list of college players eligible for the 2023 NFL Draft.
In his collegiate career, he has rushed for 6,578 yards, which ranks him 14th in NCAA history. McLaughlin is in the discussion for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the best player in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision. Teams in this subdivision compete in a postseason tournament, as opposed to Football Bowl Subdivision teams, which play in bowl games at the end of the season.
The NCAA career record in all divisions is 8,074 yards, held by University of Mount Union’s Nate Kmic. McLauglin’s goal is at least 1,500 yards this year, which would give him the record.
“Number one thing going into the season is to win. But I do have some individual goals of that nature,” says McLauglin, whose season begins Sept. 3 when YSU hosts Duquesne. “I’m just working harder every day so that I can reach those goals for myself and also for the team.”
YSU Head Football Coach Doug Phillips says he wants McLaughlin to break the record.
“If we’re running the football the way we can run the football, we’re going to win a lot of football games,” Phillips says. “Our offensive line knows the expectations. They know the type of player Jaleel is. They know our goal is to make sure Jaleel can go and have the best senior season he could possibly have.”
Senior Dra Rushton, who Phillips says had productive spring workouts, and junior Randy Smith will back up McLaughlin to give the YSU feature back some much-needed breaks during the season.
“His [repetitions] are going to be quality over quantity,” Phillips says of McLaughlin.
Sophomore Demeatric Crenshaw returns as the team’s starting quarterback with junior Mitch Davidson serving as the backup. Redshirt freshman Brandon Alexander will see some time on the field, Phillips says.
Phillips saw Crenshaw become more cognizant of defensive coverages, overall quarterback concepts and pass protection. Crenshaw had 599 yards rushing and was 97-of-156 for 791 yards with a combined 13 touchdowns in 2021.
“We have quarterback 1 and quarterback 2. But quarterback 1 better come ready to practice each and every day or quarterback 2 is going to be pressing for your job,” Phillips says.
Crenshaw says he’s homed in on those intangibles this offseason.
“I’ve been focusing on getting my feet under me,” he says. “I learned the more I keep my feet under me and keep a better base, the better the ball comes out.”
Junior Bryce Oliver’s nine touchdowns in 2021 was the most of any YSU receiver since 1999. The 6-foot-1, 217-pound receiver will lead the receiver corps this season.
Sophomore C.J. Charleston has playmaking ability from the slot position, while redshirt freshman Latrell Fordham and Max Tomczak add to the depth at this position. Fordham transferred from Eastern Michigan.
“I’m excited for our receiving crew,” Phillips says. “We’ve got to get the ball downfield. I think we have the playmakers that can make it happen.”
YSU had maybe one substitution on both the offensive and defensive sides last season. This year, the Penguins boast much more depth.
Sophomores Jaison Williams and David Metzler man the right and left tackle positions, respectively. Sophomore Aidan Parker is coming off a 2021 spring and fall season where he was playing with an injured left shoulder but is healed coming into 2022.
Senior Joey Groeber (Cincinnati), junior Ryan Johnson (Duquesne) and junior Errol Walker (Grambling) all transferred as 325-pound guards. Johnson came to YSU last season but senior Casey Baker may see time.
“We’ll go 20 strong into camp with our offensive alignment,” Phillips says.
He added the defensive line was the strongest unit from the spring training sessions with sophomore Dylan Wudke and senior James Jackson. Inside is sophomore Chris Fitzgerald, junior Devin Lee and redshirt freshman Jaelen Crider, a transfer from Toledo.
Sophomore Anthony Johnson will be impactful as well, Phillips says. Sophomores Andres Lehrmann and Hunter Allen are among the backups.
Junior Griffin Hoak returns with 47 tackles and four sacks in 2021.
“He’s a very smart football player,” Phillips says. “He’s like the quarterback of the defense.”
Sophomores Alex Howard, D’Marco Augustin, graduate transfer Caleb Burr (Lafayette), senior Greg Benton Jr. (Western Illinois), sophomore Logan Pasco and sophomore Devin Johnson are going to fill some spots as well.
“We need competition because competition in practice is how you become a championship-level team,” Phillips says.
Ohio State transfer Marcus Hooker comes to YSU with two years of eligibility remaining. He has expectations of making it to the professional ranks, Phillips says.
Former YSU tight end Drew Ogletree was a sixth-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts.
“You can come here and still make it to the NFL,” Phillips says. “We have shown that over time.”
Senior Quincy Lenton, junior Andrew Hardin and sophomores Tyjon Jones and Alijah Curtis are going to provide some depth at safety.
“We have five to six guys all champing to get on the field,” Phillips says.
Sophomore Troy Jakubec and Amarian Robinson and junior Natavious Payne played plenty in 2021 at cornerback. Add to this junior Ezekiel Blake, who Phillips says is one of the strongest corners he’s been around.
“I’m excited to see how those guys do, and compete,” Phillips says.
Seniors Colt McFadden and Paddy Lynch are the placekicker and punter, respectively. But Phillips says redshirt freshman Brendon Kilpatrick will challenge to be on the field.