McLaughlin looks to keep SouthLake Christian football going in the right direction
Tuesday, Jul. 22, 2014

McLaughlin looks to keep SouthLake Christian football going in the right direction

Bobby McLaughlin doesn’t plan on “reinventing the wheel,” at SouthLake Christian, he will change the system from a more wide-open, spread attack to a spread that looks to run the ball early and often.
  • Bobby McLaughlin File

    Age: 44

    Experience: Lincolnton assistant (2004-2013); North Iredell assistant (2003-04); South Iredell (1999-2003); Mooresville (1998); West Iredell (1993-98).

    Playing experience: Played quarterback at Catawba College; Lincolnton High

    Education: Appalachian State (bachelor’s degree, 1992); UNC Charlotte (master’s in special education, 2000).

Bobby McLaughlin knows all about being a part of winning football program.

McLaughlin, now 44, has proven he was a winner on the field and on the sidelines for the last quarter century.

It started when he was the quarterback at Lincolnton High in the 1980s for head coach Von Ray Harris and then assistant Coach Scott Cloninger.

After his college football career at Catawba College was cut short by injury, McLaughlin jumped back in, landing jobs as assistant football coach at Lincolnton, Mooresville and North, South and West Iredell highs for more than two decades.

His latest stop – his alma mater for the past 10 seasons as quarterbacks/defensive backs coach under his former coach, Cloninger. At Lincolnton, he has helped the Wolves win a 2A state championship in 2007 and become 2A state runner-up in 2011.

But while McLaughlin has accomplished a lot as an assistant coach, for the first time this season, he is taking over his first program, as head coach at SouthLake Christian Academy.

While most first-time head coaches get opportunities to take over program in need of rebuilding, McLaughlin has the chance to take over the defending NCISAA Division III state champions (11-1 last year) with a veteran roster returning, including all-state running back Robert Washington and many more.

The Eagles have gone 22-3 over the past two seasons, making it to the NCISAA Division III state championship game in each of those campaigns.

“I’m definitely very excited to get an opportunity to lead a program like SouthLake Christian, that already has a great tradition going,” said McLaughlin, who takes over for former Coach Geoff O’Donnell, who stepped down after two seasons as head coach.

“Usually, as a new coach, you have focus on rebuilding or resolving a bunch of issues within the team. We don’t have to worry about all that stuff, we have been able to focus on football. We want to keep this thing going.”

While he is still new to the program, McLaughlin’s players already have rave reviews about the “tight-knit, family,” atmosphere that he demands.

“Coach McLaughlin is already one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for,” said SouthLake Christian junior linebacker, Jack Fording, who has started since his freshman year. “He’s not only a great coach, but a great guy, and he knows how to work you hard. I feel the whole team is getting closer every day, and I think that will make us even better (on the field).”

While McLaughlin doesn’t plan on “reinventing the wheel,” at SouthLake Christian, he will change the system from a more wide-open, spread attack to a spread that looks to run the ball early and often.

To help do that, he not only hired former South Iredell assistant Rydell Cowan (now SouthLake Christian offensive coordinator), to run the offense, but he will also feature all-state running back Robert Washington.

Washington, who rushed for 2,518 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, has 34 major, Division I football scholarship offers and counting and hopes to have an even bigger senior season.

Washington will team with all-state center Chris Lutzel, senior wideout D.J. Wilson and junior receiver Will Eason to provide a strong returning core to the offense.

“My style is to roll up our sleeves and go to work every day,” said McLaughlin, who will continue to work as special education teacher in the Lincoln County school system. “We are going to be a blue-collar team that plays tough, hard-nosed football and runs the ball well and plays great defense. We already have a lot of good football players that fit that mold.”

The SouthLake Christian defense also looks strong under defensive coordinator Mike Causey.

Causey has a lot of talent to build around, starting with 6-foot-3, 250-pound all-state defensive end Jaylen Nash (106 tackles, 12 sacks last year) up front.

Joining Nash on the line will be Seth Nerness, a transfer from Iowa, with all-state linebackers Grant Bushinski (109 tackles, 14 sacks last year) and Zach Dudan (121 tackles last year) as well as Fording (65 tackles) back in the fold.

McLaughlin’s roster will continue to take shape over the next month as his team went to Catawba College football camp and has two big, multi-team scrimmages coming up, first at West Stanly (with West Stanly, West Montgomery and Anson) on Aug. 12 and then at Lincolnton, where the host, along with SouthLake Christian, East Surry and Ashe County highs, will do battle on Aug. 15.

The real thing for McLaughlin and Co. starts a week later, when the Eagles make their official 2014 debut at Highland Tech.

While McLaughlin knows “there will be some nerves associated with his first game as a head coach,” he is confident that he is more than ready.

“I’ve been very blessed to have been around and worked with a lot of great coaches for 20-plus years now, and I also have a great staff around me now at SouthLake Christian,” McLaughlin said.

“In the last decade, I’ve been a part of one of the best programs in the state (at Lincolnton) with one of the best head coaches. We really established a great tradition there, and I think we can do the same thing at SouthLake Christian.”

His players feel like they won’t miss a beat with their new head coach.

“We’ve established a championship tradition in the last several seasons at SouthLake Christian, getting to the state championship game and getting really close before that,” Fording said.

“We believe we can continue that tradition with Coach McLaughlin. We are looking forward to going out and trying to win another championship this year.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at

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