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Yards piling up for former safety

Alex McLaughlin, a Ridgewater College running back, has rushed for 1,090 yards this season, which is just shy of 220 yards each Saturday.

That puts him on line to break Doug Doering's record of 185 yards per game set 19 years ago when the campus overlooking Foot Lake was called Willmar Community College.

Not bad for a kid who got only a half-dozen carries in high school.

McLaughlin may be a thoroughbred but he knows his past and future are linked intimately to the plow horses that provide him with daylight.

"I love my 'O' line," he says smiling during an on-campus interview. "We're all still growing. We can be even better."

Sometime the holes are wide, sometimes small, sometimes not there, You have to remember, he cautions, the opposing defense can make plays, too.

He recites the names of the interior linemen: center Cody Haas (Raymond), guards Patricio Lopez, Jr. (Olivia) and Antonio Nicholas (St. Paul) and tackles Tom Boike (Willmar) and John Noethlich (Doland. S.D.).

He also credits his blocking backs for springing him; Nik Neubarth (Brownton) and Jacob Wahl (Walnut Grove), plus accolades to the tight ends, Jordan Hanson (Albert Lea) and L.W. Frost (Apple Valley). And even the receivers who McLaughlin said he has received downfield blocks from: Trent Traxler (LaCrescent), Zach Thissen (Raymond) and Ricky Warren (Stuart, Fla.).

McLaughlin attended Minneapolis Washburn through his junior year. His mother, Jennifer, moved her three children to Apple Valley before Alex's senior year.

He started at strong safety for the Eagles and wrestled in the 160-pound slot for Apple Valley's 2006 state champions.

He spent his first year out of school working several jobs and taking one four-credit course at Normandale CC. A wrestler friend, Mike Christians, tipped him off to Ridgewater.

"I had looked at Rochester, too, but the football coach didn't like the idea of me also wrestling," said McLaughlin. "They called back and said it would be OK after they heard I was planning on going to Ridgewater."

He had come here intent on wrestling for Jesse Nelson.

"But he got a new job in August (2007), which was fine," says McLaughlin. "I played football but for some reason I lost that ambition and decided in October I wasn't going to wrestle after all."

He also wanted to get a shot at offense, where he'd had only got a whiff in high school.

There were tons of running backs at both Washburn and Apple Valley. He never got much of a chance to make an impression, so he settled for defense, a strong safety who played only a few yards off the line.

"Defense is tough," he said. "I enjoy hitting but defense isn't just hitting. You've got to wrap up and tackle."

Ridgewater football coach said he could have a shot at running back but could make not promises; with Justin Laughlin the featured running back.

McLaughlin languished through four games with just nine carries. His chance came at mid-season after a loss at Northland. After 82 yards in a loss to Central Lakes, he picked up 241 yards at Fergus Falls, another low however. He'd add a 150-yard game at Rochester.

"He's self motivated," said Baumgarn. "He works hard in the off-season. He has great grades. School and football are his priorities."

Second semester this year, McLaughlin and three other Warriors worked on their speed and strength at the Cardinal Acceleration program at the high school under Ken Heitzman. The Cardinals head coach takes no credit for accomplishments of the 5-11, 205 running back whose been clocked at 4.53 on grass.

"He had the talent long before he got to me," says Heitzman.

Added Baumgarn: "He's got a good future as a student and football player. His time and effort are paying off. I think he can play at a very high level next year."

The Warriors (4-1) host Minnesota West (4-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday, which is also Youth Football Night.

Sweet homecoming

Players say head coach Ken Heitzman was beaming in the fourth quarter when the Cardinal lead extended to 10 points. He'd won on his high school field with his parents, Don and Joyce, in the stands.

His Cardinals had beaten a good Sartell team coached by his high-school teammate John Ross. The former allies are now even -- five wins apiece -- in head-to-head meetings.

Ross's post-game comments, appearing in the St. Cloud Times the next day, were more generous: "They took it too us tonight. They beat us in every phase of the game."

Ross also singled out the play of Jordan Smith, who scored all 24 Cardinal points: "He had a big night. He had a lot of big plays on the field."