Khaleed Vaughn - From Obscurity to Big Time College Football
Dorothy Vaughn turned off I-85 onto Hwy 76 and headed to Clemson. Her son, Khaleed, slid down in his seat.
He had lost the argument.
On their way back from a visit to Furman, she wanted Khaleed to visit Clemson and the football coaches.
The closer they got to Clemson, the more he hated the idea of popping in unannounced.
"I didn’t want to impose," said Khaleed. He wasn’t in charge.
His mom drove on.
Khaleed had no reason to think Clemson wanted to see him pulling onto campus. When they arrived at Clemson, Khaleed looked like a teenager too proud to be seen with his mother in front of his friends. He thought about staying in the car.
"I didn’t know how the college recruiting thing went," he said. "Clemson was having its own recruits visit that weekend."
Dorothy Vaughn wasn’t going to let her son get in the way. She introduced herself and her son to the coaching staff. They went to the football stadium. Ruben Mendoza ("The biggest coach I’ve ever seen," said Khaleed.) showed them the weight room. They went to Vickery Hall.
The tour ended and the coaches told Khaleed to send them from film. They would go from there.
Mike Walker, head coach at North Atlanta High School, obliged. On Thursday, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring called the school.
"Who’s recruiting him," he asked.
Walker gave him a list of about ten schools. Marshall was the only Division 1-A school on the list.
"What’s the matter with him?" Herring asked.
"Nothing," said Walker.
It was two weeks before signing day. An official visit was set up for that weekend.
Vaughn was a 6-6 defensive end and tight end. Until the call from Clemson, he figured his choices were limited to either Marshall or the Naval Academy. He didn’t play football until the 10th grade.
Walker practically begged him to come out for the football team. Vaughn would say the same thing each time to Walker: "Coach, I just know basketball." Which he did.
Vaughn was the starting center on the basketball team. He was on the varsity as a ninth grader at North Atlanta, a school of about 1500 students. Vaughn scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds a game last year. His aggressiveness on the basketball court is what caught Walker’s attention.
"He’s always been the aggressive type," said Walker. "We saw that on the basketball court. He’s going to spread his wings and get people off of him.
"I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute. I’d like to have that at tight end or defensive end’."
Midway through football season during Vaughn’s sophomore year, he gave in and put on a helmet.
"Once he got that first lick in practice, he wasn’t shy about it," said Walker.
Vaughn didn’t see any playing time until his team was losing by a couple of touchdowns late in its only playoff game that year.
"He came back out his junior year and was still wet behind the ears," said Walker. "His senior year he turned into a complete player."
He also grew. Vaughn was 6-1 in the tenth grade. He grew to 6-3 by the next year and was 6-4 at the beginning of his senior year. He estimates his height is now closer to 6-6.
Vaughn caught 28 passes his senior year and made 101 tackles. He runs a 4.6 40-yard dash and caught runners for a total of 38 tackles in the last two games in high school.
"I think that in four years we’ll see him on Sundays," said Walker.
Still, no one knew who Vaughn was.
"I think I could grow another two inches," said Vaughn. "The coaches at Clemson said they want to get me in the weight room."
The taller Vaughn grows, the lankier he gets. He’s got 235 pounds for his 6-6 frame. Still, neither he nor his coach can figure why he didn’t get anything more than a letter from most Division 1-A schools.
"I think that one of the key factors was that he didn’t come out until his sophomore year," said Walker.
That year Vaughn had a talk with a friend that could see Vaughn excelling in more than just basketball.
Segun Ajigeda, two years Vaughn’s senior and now on the football team at Arkansas State, sat down with Vaughn. "Right before he left he sat down and talked to me because he played on the basketball team, too," he said. "He really helped me a lot. He showed me the potential I had. He said that I could be someone like he was – getting a scholarship somewhere."
Vaughn was worried about the pressure playing football would put on his academic life. He maintained a 3.2 average. And he found something that he loved as much as basketball.
"I loved to hit people," said Vaughn. "Even though our season didn’t go as well as we would have liked, I never gave up. On every play I kept on playing aggressively."
He thinks that’s one thing that came through on the film that his coach sent to Clemson.
"When he went over there, they said, ‘Hey, that’s what we saw on the film. That’s what we want’," said Walker.
A couple of weeks after his first trip, Vaughn headed back down Hwy 76 with his mom. This time he hopped out of the car and ran down The Hill wearing a Clemson jersey with his name on the back. It turned out to be a perfect fit.
"I really liked coach Herring," said Vaughn. "He’s got a lot of energy. As a defensive coach you’ve got to have that kind of energy. He makes the most of it."
Vaughn is planning to major in business at Clemson with a minor in legal studies. His mom is a lawyer and a big influence on him.
"My mom always showed me the right thing to do," said Vaughn. "She showed me that what you see other people doing might not always be the right thing."
And she never loses an argument with Khaleed.
Tommy Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org