Hawks turn to McLaughlin to help launch sprint football program

Conner Mac

Conner McLaughlin will be the first head coach of the Quincy University sprint football program. Photo courtesy QU Sports Information

QUINCY — In the brief amount of time Conner McLaughlin has been involved with the burgeoning Quincy University sprint football program, he’s answered a string of questions from those who have never heard of the sport.

Is it 8-on-8? Is it 5-on-5? Is it flag football? Is it played in the spring?

McLaughlin answers each query with a complete explanation of the game.

“Explaining it is easy. It’s football,” McLaughlin said. “It’s 11-on-11. It’s full contact. It’s physical. It’s fast-paced. It’s up-tempo. It’s all of that with a weight limit (players cannot weigh more than 178 pounds). It’s football as everyone knows. It’s an exciting form of football.”

The former Unity-Payson football coach is the one being entrusted to introduce it to the masses.

McLaughlin, a QU and Quincy Notre Dame graduate, has been named the Hawks’ inaugural sprint football coach, athletic director Josh Rabe announced Friday. Quincy will not begin play until the fall of 2022, but McLaughlin is hitting the ground running as he will spend the next year recruiting and formulating his program.

“I’m excited to have football full-time now,” McLaughlin said. “That’s been a dream of mine since I got into coaching. With that being said, it is full-time. What myself and my family experience during football season is now going to be year round. It’s a never-stop kind of job. It’s what I signed up for and I’m excited.”

The non-stop nature of the job takes hold right away.

McLaughlin currently is shadowing QU football coach Gary Bass and his staff, learning everything from a schedule for move-in day to weight-training procedures to meal plans. It’s enabling him to formulate a plan before players arrive on campus.

“Those are things I’m glad I get to experience now when the pressure is not on me in order for it to be a little bit easier or at least to have a more finite gameplan when my guys end up coming in next year,” McLaughlin said. “I’ll have a little bit of a blueprint.”

He also will be traversing the tri-state area as high school teams begin fall practices Monday. McLaughlin wants to answer questions about sprint football from the players themselves and build or reinforce relationships with the high school coaches.

“When you’re making that decision of whether to play college football, one of the people you rely on the most is your high school coach,” McLaughlin said. “If they can turn around and say, ‘Hey, Coach, I talked to Coach McLaughlin from Quincy University and he said he knows you. Is this a place for me?’ 

“A lot of those high school coaches know who I am, not just as a coach but as a person. It allows me to get an upperhand of potentially getting those kids to come play for me.”

McLaughlin served as an assistant coach at QND and Highland (Mo.) prior to becoming the Unity-Payson head coach in 2017. His teams went 15-19 over four seasons with the Mustangs reaching the Class 2A playoffs in 2019. 

In the six-game season last spring, the Mustangs went 10 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown and allowed just 180 yards per game. His 2019 playoff team averaged 32 points and 308 yards per game, showcasing an offense built around tempo that is quite reminiscent of many sprint programs.

“I believe Coach McLaughlin will do great things with our sprint football program,” Rabe said. “Conner’s connection to our tri-state area football coaches will jumpstart our recruiting efforts.”

More importantly, he shares the vision Rabe and QU president Dr. Brian McGee have for the athletic department and the university.

“I really, really align with Dr. McGee’s success by design idea for the university,” McLaughlin said. “It’s the same thing we talk about as football coaches. Our job is to lay out the path and give our kids all the tools and skills to be successful. That’s something I want to be a part of.”

And he wants to coach.

“At heart, I’m a coach,” McLaughlin said. “I love doing what I do. I love being able to give opportunities and mold young men. This is an opportunity that no one else has for any of these kids.”

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