From sidelines to stepping up: UWF’s Vaughn’s hard work and experience leads to star performance
By Jay Phillips
Last year UWF surprised everyone with a playoff run that ended in the national championship game on ESPN2.
During that run, UWF featured a game changer at quarterback in redshirt freshman Mike Beaudry.
This story is not about Beaudry however.
A run like that might be expected of some powerhouse schools, but UWF being such a new program wasn’t on many peoples’ radar a few months before they faced Texas A&M Commerce in the national championship.
Beaudry was able to help UWF through some of the tougher games on their schedule during what would be a 10 game winning streak and national championship run.
Games such as his 247 yard, 2 touchdown performance at #17 West Alabama showed his ability to make things happen for the Argonauts on offense but also showed his ability to manage the game and not make mistakes.
A trip to the playoffs can yield just about anything when you have such stellar quarterback play. In 2018, UWF expected to exert the same dominance, starting in week one against No. 22 Carson-Newman with Beaudry leading the way.
Instead, Beaudry didn’t even get a chance to complete five passes and left the game early on with an ankle injury before returning on crutches.
Insert Sam Vaughn.
Through their first three years as a program UWF has proven they can overcome whatever is thrown at them, and head coach Pete Shinnick’s team did it again with Vaughn stepping in at quarterback.
After Beaudry’s injury, Vaughn took over and led the Argonauts to an impressive 19-9 week one victory.
Vaughn knew there was a chance he would enter the season opener, but he and his coaches hoped to make that change by design and not due to an injury to their starter.
If UWF wants to make another run at a championship, they need players that can do the unexpected, and that’s exactly what Vaughn did.
Even though Vaughn was able to improve throughout the game, he still had some rough spots after coming in.
“It’s been a while since I’ve taken some hits and been out there live,” Vaughn said.
Early on in the game, Vaughn made a throw in the red zone that was tipped and intercepted, throwing a wrench into the gut of some UWF fans.
“He really had a rough start so to speak, came down and threw the interception in the red zone, but for a guy that hadn’t played in four years, that’s pretty good,” Shinnick said. “We knocked some rust off.”
Despite the early mistake, Vaughn was able to come back, make a few big plays and help UWF win the game.
Vaughn credited a lot of that to his experience.
“I’ve been around a lot of coaches and a lot of players that I’ve taken valuable bits from,” Vaughn said. “Even though I haven’t played, I feel like I bring a lot of experience and knowledge that I hope can be put to good use in the situation we’re in right now.”
Vaughn went on to say that the last snap he took in a game was about four years ago while he was in high school, but that doesn’t take anything away from the experience Vaughn brings to the team.
Before arriving at UWF as a graduate-transfer, Vaughn spent three years as a backup at the University of Georgia practicing against some of the best defenses at that level. As a backup at Georgia, Vaughn practiced against the same defense that would go on to compete in the most recent college football playoffs, and now he brings those experiences to UWF.
After the game, Vaughn thanked his teammates for the support they gave him, and his defense for keeping the game within reach.
According to Shinnick, the offense and defense usually go to seperate parts of the locker room during halftime for their meetings. They still did this during halftime of the Carson-Newman game, but it was a little different.
“Our defensive players come out of their meeting and go into the offensive locker room just saying ‘We believe in you guys, we know you can get it done,’” Shinnick said.
That support was huge, not only for the offense but for Vaughn.
“My teammates constantly came up and said ‘We’ve got you, settle in. We’ve got you, we’re gonna keep you in it,’ so the second half came around and I think everybody settled in,” Vaughn said.
Those statements hold a lot of truth, but Vaughn may have been a little too humble when it came to his individual game.
The senior quarterback finished with 218 yards in the air, and a lot of that damage was done in the second half. Overall the stats look like something that might not cut it in an all-out NFL air-raid system, but that’s not what was being asked of Vaughn, or the system he was playing in, or the opponent he was playing against.
Carson-Newman regularly fields a stout defense, and it was on display against Vaughn. Even though his presser might not have let on, his 218 yards through the air was an impressive feat against that defense and more passing yards than they gave up in their last four games of 2017.
In fact, Vaughn’s numbers do look like that of an NFL air raid quarterback’s when compared to some of the stat lines that Carson-Newman gave to its opponents’ quarterbacks. In 2017, Carson-Newman held Tusculum’s quarterback to 36 yards on 5-14 attempts last season, which puts Vaughn’s night in perspective.
Vaughn noted that he had some rust to knock off before he really got rolling. Luckily for him, UWF’s receivers came prepared to help.
“There were a couple of balls I threw in there that I wasn’t sure if they’d get picked off, and they came up with them,” said Vaughn.
One of them came on a long pass to Quentin Randolph.
Vaughn unloaded a pass towards the goal line, and everyone thought he had thrown his second interception of the night. Including his coaches. Everybody except for Randolph, who exploded onto the scene and made a acrobatic grab that took every defender out of the picture.
“Quentin Randolph and that catch he had on the sideline might be as good as we’ve had in this program,” Shinnick said. “He shouldn’t have even thrown the ball. He should have gone the other way.”
Vaughn put his trust in his receiver and went for the big play, even though he had been told by his coaches and teammates that he only needed to make small ones. Vaughn’s ability to make the small and consistent plays matched with his big play efforts like that will give UWF a reason to trust their offense in 2018.
No matter who the quarterback is.
Vaughn had an unexpected night, but it wasn’t a fluke. It was the product of hard work, good coaching and good teammates. These situations are the types of things that UWF works every day to prepare for.
Now that Shinnick is seeing how his team fights through those situations it’s not a surprise that he and his staff are excited about the season ahead of them.
“To face adversity, have a couple of injuries and to come out and find a way to win,” Shinnick said. “I’m fired up about what we were able to do and I think the future is bright.”