ATHENS — Recently appointed Limestone County Sheriff Joshua McLaughlin said a lesson he learned from quitting his high school football team will help him face leadership challenges in his new position.

McLaughlin, 39, was a nose tackle for the East Limestone football team coached by the late Phil Cavnar in the 1990s before deciding to leave the team as a senior.

“I was scared I was going to be the captain of the team. I was scared of being the leader,” McLaughlin said. “The following year at a kickoff I realized the mistake I had made simply by fear. That has ultimately driven me through everything I’ve done from that point.

"God puts you in a position and you should run with it and do the best you can. I was one of two seniors. I stopped doing something I loved. Something I would have been great at simply because I was afraid. It’s something I have held on to and it continues to drive me to never let the fears (overtake me).”

Gov. Kay Ivey appointed McLaughlin to replace veteran Sheriff Mike Blakely last month following Blakely's conviction in August of theft and abuse of power charges and removal from office. Blakely is appealing the conviction.

McLaughlin, who has worked in law enforcement in Limestone for the past 18 years, was most recently chief investigator with the Limestone County District Attorney's Office. He said that as sheriff he'll need additional deputies and corrections officers to deal with the county's growth.

“I want to continue to modernize the department,” he said. “I’d like to see the staff grow. The community is growing, and we need more patrol deputies on the road. I will work with the County Commission. We have 103,000 people in this county now. It will require more employees. I want to make sure we can serve every one of those. I want people to know we’re very involved in the community and that they can trust us.”

He said that through grants he is trying to get four more patrol deputies and four more jailers.

“Those are needs,” he said.

The Limestone County Sheriff’s Office has 138 employees, including 40 deputies and 70 jailers, he said. He also hopes to secure a mental health officer to help de-escalate some situations his officers might face.

“We need a couple of more deputies on night shift,” he said. “Inside the jail, we’re pretty well staffed. Four more jailers will put us right where we need to be to make sure we are protecting the people back there.”

Limestone County District 1 Commissioner Daryl Sammet said he believes the commission is willing to work with the new sheriff.

"We've seen about a 25% to 28% increase in population in this last census," Sammet said. "We know he'll likely need more personnel with the calls increasing. He's been good to work with so far, but money always has the final say. We'll do all we can to accommodate him in the next budget."

One change McLaughlin plans involves eliminating some of the recreational vehicles the department owns “that we don’t necessarily have a need for.” He said he was not ready to list the vehicles.

“We could take (the money) and utilize it for more training for our officers,” he said. “There’s a ton of training out there, and I feel like we can get into quarterly training … .”

McLaughlin, a husband and father of three boys, calls his Christian faith and passion his biggest strengths.

“A lot of pressure comes with (being appointed sheriff),” he said. “Staying true to myself is the biggest thing. I plan to be the person people saw before I became the sheriff. I will have an open-door policy. If residents have a concern, I want them to contact me."

McLaughlin said he plans to run for the position in 2022 and would like to serve for several terms.

“I want to serve my community and then retire and ultimately visit my grandbabies and travel the country with my wife.”

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mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.

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