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Denmark seniors Dankowski, McLaughlin sign to NC schools
Denmark seniors Dillon Dankowski (Cleveland Community College), left, and Aaron McLaughlin (North Carolina State) signed Wednesday at Troncalli Subaru. - photo by David Roberts

There are five active NFL quarterbacks who played collegiately at North Carolina State.

Aaron McLaughlin hopes to join that list, and took a step Wednesday at Troncalli Subaru when he signed to play football with the Wolfpack.

"I just fell in love with it," McLaughlin said of the school. "I thought it was a great opportunity for me going there to not play early but just really learn the quarterback position. They have five quarterbacks in the NFL, so it's a great opportunity. I really have a great relationship with all the coaches."

McLaughlin was one of two Denmark signees, joining Dillon Dankowski, who signed to play baseball at Cleveland Community College in Shelby, North Carolina. 

Dankowski transferred to Denmark last year from Horizon Christian Academy, hoping to see an increased level of competition. But the baseball season was canceled less than a month into the season, casting Dankowski's recruiting process into turmoil. 

"It's kind of a relief," Dankowski said of signing. "It was kind of annoying, like, this whole (coronavirus) and how you couldn't talk to any DIs or anything. That's why I wanted to go JUCO, so I could transfer to a DI after. It was just a weird process."

Cleveland Community College is scheduled to play its inaugural season this spring as part of Region 10, a National Junior College Athletic Association conference that spans North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. 

Denmark went 13-8 in two seasons with McLaughlin under center, reaching the playoffs each time. 

McLaughlin led the Danes to a 6-5 record this season in the school's Class 7A debut, falling in the second round of the playoffs 17-6 to Collins Hill after a 63-0 win against Discovery in the first round.

"Every Friday night, winning at home is really fun," McLaughlin said. "I think that's definitely my favorite part of it. I can't think of one certain thing, but Friday nights playing at home is definitely the best thing about it."

McLaughlin, considered a four-star recruit by 247sports, was 109-of-174 passing for 1,505 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. He was also Denmark's leading rusher, averaging more than seven yards per carry (85 carries, 638 yards) before suffering a mid-season hamstring injury.

"We needed to do it to win and it worked. I enjoy it," McLaughlin said. "I pulled my hamstring, so toward the end I couldn't really run much, but when I did it worked."

McLaughlin, who decommitted from Auburn in February, said he visited NC State and met several of the school's alumni. NC State's quarterback pipeline into the NFL — Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon, Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Finely — also played a factor in McLaughlin's decision.

While McLaughlin's signing marked the start of the early signing period for the Danes, McLaughlin believes it won't be the last for Denmark's football programs this year and was complimentary of his wide receiving corps. 

"There's nothing I could have accomplished this year without them," McLaughlin said. "Teddy (Davenport), Casey (Gunn), Azari (Brown) — they're all great receivers. They all have the potential to play at the next level, and I definitely think they will."