November 25, 2014

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Athlete of the Year: Andrew Vaughn broke bad habits — then records

Black River’s Andrew Vaughn is the 2014 Gazette Senior Male Athlete of the Year. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

Black River’s Andrew Vaughn is the 2014 Gazette Senior Male Athlete of the Year. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

They have an extremely tight bond now, but there was a time when Andrew Vaughn was scared to death of Black River football coach Al Young.

That’s a good thing, because without that fear, Vaughn might not be the 2014 Gazette Senior Male Athlete of the Year.

As a middle school student, Vaughn was blessed with amazing athletic talent, but either didn’t know, didn’t care or both. In those days, he was more concerned with being cool, filling the role of class clown and spending long hours playing video games in his room.

That attitude, coupled with failing to do his schoolwork, led to him becoming academically ineligible to play sports as an eighth-grader. After getting back on track and lettering as a freshman running back for the Pirates, the same problems surfaced and Vaughn was ineligible to play basketball.

“My parents (Doug and Tammy) got on me so bad, but I thought I was so cool,” he said. “I’m a freshman. I’m playing varsity. My head was in the clouds and I lost my way.

“I was definitely full of myself. I was thinking I was all this, thinking I was all that. I don’t even know what it was that made me act that way. Nobody knows what happened.”

Young tried many approaches in an attempt to reach a kid he knew could be a star and set records. He praised, he criticized, he lectured, he even screamed.

Vaughn listened, nodded his head, then went back to class and goofed around some more. He wasn’t a horrible kid and alcohol and drugs were never an issue, but something had to give.

“I saw him in eighth grade when he was ineligible and he could do everything,” said Young, Black River’s head football coach for 24 seasons. “I saw a kid that, it’s not that they’re too cool for school, they’re just a little above everybody else. ‘If I play, it’s great. It’s just an activity.’

“Even when he came aboard his freshman year, as good as he was, he just wasn’t into it. God, that bothered me. I knew how good he could be if he really put his mind to it.”

Ultimately, that was the first part of a Young speech — maybe even lecture — that finally got through to Vaughn: You can be great. You can get a college scholarship and be somebody.

The second part was just as important: If you don’t straighten up, you aren’t going anywhere.

It should be noted that Young, a former running back at Iowa Wesleyan, did not convey either part of that message in a subtle manner. In fact, his intimidating presence — or at least what the person on the receiving end viewed as being an intimidating presence — was an equally important factor.

“Coach Young turned it around for me,” Vaughn said. “I thought I was just another high school person. I didn’t think I could make an impact on our school or our community. Coach Young saw something in me. And he scared me to death. Really, I was scared of him.

“He told me I was only going to play football so long. He told me I needed to get my education, that I wouldn’t make it and that I’d be just another person if I kept doing what I was doing. I decided I wanted to leave high school being an example for someone of what you could do. I’ve never missed an assignment since my freshman year.”

Total package

Now 6 feet tall and 215 pounds with 4.45-second speed in the 40-yard dash, not to mention a 320-pound bench press, 520-pound squat and 570-pound deadlift, Vaughn is one of those kids who is good at any sport he tries.

“You know the saying, ‘Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work?’” football teammate Jeremy Wiggins asked. “Well, he has both.

“Watching someone who can be good at just about anything he does, it’s kind of neat. He was good at everything.”

Football, which Vaughn will continue to play on scholarship at Division II Ashland University after rushing for a Medina County-record 6,097 yards over his four-year career, is the sport that got him the most notoriety in high school.

Vaughn, however, was also a four-year letterwinner and two-time All-Gazette pick in baseball. He made plays at shortstop that many prep players can only dream about while stealing 69 bases and hitting .392 with a .611 slugging percentage for his career.

The Jackson Township resident never went out for track at Black River, but he would have excelled in the sprints and long jump, where he recorded a leap of 21 feet while just messing around.

Vaughn was also good enough to start for Black River’s basketball team as a sophomore — he led the county in assists with a 4.6 average for the 1-20 Pirates — before missing his junior year due to wrist surgery and electing not to play as a senior.

“I did it because I didn’t have anything to do in the winter,” Vaughn said of playing hoops as a 10th-grader. “I enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but I’d compare my game to playing at the YMCA. I was going 100 mph or I was sitting on the bench. That’s just how I played.”

Vaughn was much more serious about baseball, and he posted some very serious numbers.

As a sophomore, he hit .368 with a home run, 18 stolen bases, 28 runs and a .494 slugging percentage, but that was just a hint of what was to come.

Vaughn hit .418 as a junior, with four home runs, 18 more steals, 31 runs and a .643 slugging percentage, then capped his career by hitting .440 with 13 doubles, two triples, two homers, 29 steals, 36 runs and an eye-popping .747 slugging percentage as a senior.

Vaughn led the county by a large margin in doubles, steals, runs and slugging percentage in 2014 as the Pirates (14-12) produced their first winning season since 2006.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 4 years old,” he said. “I was always saying I was going to play pro baseball. Still, to this day, that’s my sport. I was all about baseball until I started getting offers for football.”

Boy, oh, boy

After being ineligible for sports as an eighth-grader, Vaughn had 48 carries for 287 yards and two touchdowns while playing varsity as a freshman. In those days, the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division champion Pirates had All-Gazette picks Jake O’Connor and Matt Joppeck at running back.

“I went from seventh-grade football to varsity,” Vaughn said. “It was scary, honestly. It was a culture shock. I was 14 years old playing against grown men, basically. I was out of my element and got thrown around a lot, but I tried to do my job and it made me better.”

Boy, did it ever.

Vaughn exploded as a sophomore, rushing for 1,901 yards and 29 TDs as Black River finished 9-3 and qualified for the D-IV playoffs.

“I kind of blew myself away there,” he said. “I was a nobody, just another sophomore playing varsity. When you see a sophomore playing varsity, you think, ‘This guy’s not legit.’ I took advantage of that.

“Plus, we had a great group of seniors who were awesome leaders. They demanded the best from everybody. That was a big thing.”

Vaughn not only earned All-Gazette honors and was a third-team All-Ohio pick as a 10th-grader, his academic struggles were behind him thanks to a new-found love for the game and a desire to become even better.

“What sold him was his sophomore season,” Young said. “It was like, ‘Holy mackerel, I can do this?’ It’s a special gift. One thing you don’t want to do is screw it up. Fortunately for him and for us, he kind of locked in.”

There would, however, be more adversity.

In Black River’s first scrimmage his junior year, he hurt his left wrist. The pain was so great that if Vaughn’s girlfriend playfully hit him on the forearm while they were walking down the hallway, he winced.

In November, he had surgery, with doctors removing a section of bone from his upper arm and using it to repair the injury.

Vaughn never missed a game. Carrying the ball only in his right hand, he rushed for 1,567 yards and 18 touchdowns to earn All-Gazette honors and special mention all-state.

The Pirates finished 6-4 and didn’t make the playoffs, but won the second PAC Stars Division title of Vaughn’s career.

“I just couldn’t quit playing the sport, no matter what,” he said. “I thought we had a good team and could do something special. I didn’t want to miss any of that.”

Best for last

Bigger, stronger, faster and fully healthy, Vaughn had a season for the ages as a senior, rushing for 2,342 yards and a country-record 33 TDs to earn All-Gazette honors for the third straight season.

Also an outstanding safety, he was a second-team D-V All-Ohio pick as Black River finished 7-4, made the playoffs and won the third PAC Stars Division title of his career.

“I’ll tell you what: He’s the best I’ve ever seen,” Young said. “He was an unbelievable player, an unbelievable athlete for us. The thing of it was, he did it against everybody. And everybody knew when we played them, ‘Geez, I wonder who’s getting the ball?’ We didn’t surprise anyone.

“He was so strong and quick. That’s the thing. People look at him and think, ‘He’s a buck-seventy.’ The kid weighs almost 220 pounds. He’s huge … but he’s so explosive when he runs the football. His shiftiness and ability to make people miss, he’s always been like that. And he’s a tough kid.”

Vaughn’s talent was not lost on his teammates, especially his linemen. They loved the fact he always gave them credit and never got a big head.

“I don’t know anyone that’s better than him in Division V,” guard Brett Nagy said. “No one can touch him in this (PAC) conference. Right when he hit that gap, he would be gone. You can’t open-field tackle him. You just can’t do it. Once we had the hole for him, he was gone.

“You see some kids, even some kids on our team, when they get a little publicity, they get all cocky about it. He’s probably the most humble person I know. He never said anything about what was in the newspaper or all the headlines. You would have never known he had all those records. He was the same every week.”

Vaughn’s 6,097 career rushing yards rank 18th in state history. In addition to that mark, he holds county records in career points (530), points in a season (218), career TDs (82), career rushing TDs (72) and longest interception return (102 yards).

Along the way, he had individual game rushing totals of 352, 344 and 343 yards, the second-, third- and fourth-highest in county history.

“My senior year was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Vaughn said. “The first game I had 350 yards rushing. That was just so fun, because all my friends were a part of it. We’ve been playing together since we were 8 years old, and they were involved so much in the season.”

No fear

Young no longer scares Vaughn, but the 18-year-old will be forever grateful to his coach for helping him turn his life around.

“I honestly feel I would have been the kid you can’t stand in class, constantly joking around, talking,” Vaughn said. “I had no discipline. I was disciplined by my parents, but outside of my own house, I was a totally different person. I would go to school, go to my room and play video games.

“I don’t know where I would have ended up without sports. I was hanging around guys who didn’t care. It was cool not to work and goof around. I was with the wrong crowd. The teachers were on me every day. Everybody was telling me I needed to get my head on straight, but I wasn’t me back then.”

It was Young who finally got through to Vaughn. The two are now incredibly close, with Vaughn recently stopping by Young’s house to watch an NBA playoff game after his coach underwent knee surgery.

“The thing I’ll always remember is playing for Coach Young,” Vaughn said. “Around Medina County, everybody knows him. He’s one of the best coaches around. Playing for him is the biggest honor I could have, honestly. If I would have played anywhere else, I wouldn’t have had such a good career.

“Nobody pushed me as hard as him. I never thought I could do what I did, but he said he knew it all along.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.