CLEMSON -- 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 6-4 defensive end and tight end. Until the call from Clemson, he figured his choices were limited to either Marshall or the Naval Academy.
He had not played football until the 10th grade when 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. He scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds a game during his senior 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 during that sophomore 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 has grown a half inch since he came to Clemson, where he’s now being forced into the lineup at the Gator Bowl as a defensive end.
An injury that will cause Nick Eason to miss the Gator Bowl will put Vaughn in the spotlight as the Tigers try to stop Michael Vick. He will start against the Hokies at left end. Terry Bryant should start at right end, but an injured ankle could keep him out as well. If Bryant can’t start, little-used Jovon Bush will start.
Vaughn has played well this season, earning as many as 43 snaps against Florida State – an unlikely scenario considering the fact that few knew who Vaughn was on signing day in 1999.
“The coaches have been giving me opportunities to show my talents,” he said. “I’ve been getting accustomed to how to play defense at Clemson – playing hard every snap.”
He played in all 11 games this season behind Terry Bryant on the right side of the defensive line. Even Bryant has lost time during Gator Bowl preparations due to a sprained ankle.
“It’s just a matter of executing the calls,” said Vaughn. “The coaches have a good scheme.”
So does his mother.