Vaughn sticks through five years

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Henry Co. graduate played final collegiate game on Nov. 15 as a fifth-year senior for the Tigers

By Tommie Kendall

With the noise from the crowd packed inside Toyota Stadium blaring in the background, sophomore Craig Vaughn jogged out onto the field. It was his third season at Georgetown College — he red-shirted his first year in the program — and this kick return against Cumberland University would mark his first action in an actual varsity game.

Vaughn, No. 12, caught the high and wobbly kick at the 15-yard line, went around a few defenders and was eventually brought down at midfield. He returned the kick 35 yards, which sealed his spot as one of the team’s kick returners. The Henry County High School product would also catch passes as a wideout during his playing days as a Tiger.

“There was a huge crowd there and I remember running out onto the field and them calling my name and number,” Vaughn remembered two years later, just a week after playing his final game for Georgetown in a career that saw him go from a red-shirt freshman, to junior varsity to varsity in a short span. “It felt unbelievable to be out there in the spotlight. I just loved it and took a lot of pride in it.”

Fast forward two seasons, and Vaughn is now a fifth-year senior. He’s coming off another injury — his third one while at Georgetown — and he’s set to make his senior season debut against Union College, which was the third game of the 2008 campaign for Georgetown. The first time his hands caught the ball during the contest was in the end zone on a 15-yard pass play, which was his first and last touchdown of his career. He finished the game with four catches for 30 yards to go along with the TD.

Those two moments — his first kick return and his lone touchdown play — were the highlights of his time at Georgetown, which started after he was awarded a football scholarship in March 2004. While there are football players from Henry County that sign up to play college ball yearly, Vaughn is one of the few that actually stuck with it through five grueling years of hard work, dedication and sacrifices. It was definitely all worth it, he said. Looking back, he’s pleased with his decision to trade in his Henry County Wildcat uniform for a Tiger one.

“It’s been great. Most importantly, I’ve made lots of best friends for life,” Vaughn said. “Of course it was great that I was given the opportunity to play four more years of football. It’s been awesome.”

When Vaughn first came out for practice in August 2004, there were 61 freshmen on the team. All but four of them red-shirted that first season, while most didn’t last the following four years. There were 20 seniors on this year’s squad, which was more than most years.

“A lot of the guys that I saw leave just didn’t want to compete that much,” Vaughn explained. “They didn’t really have the love of the game. It’s a year-round process with no breaks and you have to give 100 percent the entire time. You’re constantly being watched and want to impress the coaches. It can get really stressful at times.”

As a high school senior during the 2003-04 school year, Vaughn led the Wildcats on the field as the team’s No. 1 option at receiver, running back, corner and kick returner on special teams. At the season-ending football banquet, he earned Most Valuable Player and later signed a scholarship with Georgetown College.

The following August, after running track for Henry in the spring, Vaughn was sprinting up and down the field at Georgetown’s practices, which were much different than his high school days. He was red-shirted his first season like typical incoming freshmen, then played junior varsity the following fall. He started playing varsity as a sophomore on the kick return team. Vaughn was recruited by Georgetown as a corner and receiver but ended up just playing receiver, while also returning kicks — his specialty.

“The biggest difference from high school to college is the competition among the team at practice,” Vaughn said. “Obviously the teams we play are much better, but the competition to earn positions and respect from the coaches is just crazy. It makes you 10 times better, both mentally and physically. Also, the speed of the game and the size of the players are much different. You don’t play a team with any weaknesses. Everyone is good and everyone is fast.”

Georgetown has won the NAIA national title in 1991, 2000 and 2001, and has also won 14 Mid-South Conference Championships. During Vaughn’s tenure, the team went 9-3, 9-2, 6-4 and 5-5. This past season, the Tigers defeated Cumberland (45-14), KCU (58-33), Campbellsville (51-45), Pikeville (59-21) and West Virginia Tech (48-0), while losing to McKendree (19-17), Union College (35-28), UVA-Wise (35-28), the University of the Cumberlands (35-20) and Lambuth (42-7).

As for Vaughn, like most players at the college level, he has suffered through a few setbacks caused by injuries. He ended his sophomore season with a separated shoulder from returning a kick, he had a concussion while returning another kick as a junior, and he started this fall with a high ankle sprain the week before the opening game, which kept him out for the first two games of his senior season.

“Injuries are a lot more common in college than in high school,” Vaughn said. “I think it’s a mixture between the speed of the game and the players’ size. It’s way more physical than high school so I think guys are more susceptible to injuries. Plus, I think it’s harder to bounce back after an injury after you get a little older. I remember spraining an ankle in high school and playing the following week, while I did the same thing in college and I was out three to four weeks.”

Vaughn played six games during his final season with 13 catches for 161 yards, one touchdown and a long play of 23 yards. Plus, he returned nine kickoffs for 103 yards with a long of 22.

While at Georgetown, Vaughn has majored in Communications with a minor in Exercise Science. He already “walked” to get his diploma last spring, while he took classes this fall so he could play his final season. He will be finished at Georgetown in December, then will either attend graduate school at the University of Louisville for Sports Administration or get a job.

“I don’t think there was ever a time when I thought I would actually quit, but there were several times when I got down on myself,” Vaughn said about his five-year span at Georgetown. “It was day in and day out a grind of getting in there and competing for a spot. Everyone’s going to have bad practices, but I had to learn how to cope with them and bounce back. I never would give up though.”

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