Carrington Vaughn walked on at Arizona as an undersized middle linebacker with no major scholarship offers.
But in Arizona’s 2016 season opener at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Vaughn’s risk paid off. He recorded a quarterback sack on the Arizona Cardinals’ home turf.
Tuesday, Vaughn was rewarded again. He and fellow sophomore Branden Leon were both put on scholarship, validation for the countless hours of hard work and affirmation for taking the path less traveled.
“To even still be here, it’s just an honor to still be on the team,” said Vaughn, who finished with eight tackles in 11 games last season. “People come and go. But just kept my head down, kept working and whenever I deserved it, when coach felt I deserved it, I knew I would get it.”
Still, Tuesday’s news was emotional. The moment began when UA support-staffer Billy Kirelawich told Vaughn that coach Rich Rodriguez wanted to see him. Vaughn didn’t think he had done anything wrong.
To the contrary: Rodriguez had good news.
“He just told me the deal and I just felt the burden lifted,” Vaughn said. “I was happy to be able to tell my parents that they don’t have to pay for my school anymore and it just felt like a great accomplishment to know that I did this for myself.”
Vaughn immediately FaceTimed his mother from the UA’s locker room. She screamed and cried.
Vaughn is a long way from Pittsburgh’s Fox Chapel High School, where he starred in relative anonymity. Albany and Penn showed interest in him, but the latter is an Ivy League school that doesn’t offer full-ride athletic scholarships. Vaughn sent his highlight video to various teams, but nobody wanted a 5-foot-11-inch middle linebacker.
Vaughn’s father was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base at the time, and he urged his son to check out the UA. Vaughn loved his trip; soon, UA assistant Jahmile Addae called to offer him a preferred walk-on spot.
After redshirting as a freshman, Vaughn made his college debut at an NFL stadium last year. His takedown of BYU quarterback Taysom Hill was the Wildcats’ first sack of the season.
Vaughn did it with one glove, too.
“When I got the call (to go in), I had one glove on. I was like scratching my hand or something. I was just waiting and all I hear is, ‘Dogs! Dogs!’ — and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s me!’
“I drop my glove, I’m out there one glove on running out there and I’m just like, don’t jump offsides, don’t do anything stupid,” Vaughn said. “I got in, and took off as fast as I could and came back around and made the play.
“That was awesome. It just confirmed everything for me.”
Now, Vaughn is expected to contribute regularly at the middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker spots. The Wildcats open their season Saturday against Northern Arizona.
“Just having a chip on my shoulder, I’m a guy that a lot of people can say doesn’t deserve to be here,” Vaughn said. “So it’s just proving to myself that I can compete at this level even when other people thought I couldn’t.”
Wildcats reach out, offer to help Houston
Arizona plans to send an equipment truck full of cleaning and hygiene supplies to Houston next week in order to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
In addition, UA athletic director Dave Heeke has invited the University of Houston football team to come to Tucson early next week in advance of their Sept. 9 game at Arizona Stadium.
Arizona is parking its 48-foot equipment truck on the east side of Arizona Stadium between Sixth Street and Enke Drive. Starting Sunday, UA fans can donate supplies to fill the truck. Donations will be accepted Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Tuesday, Sept. 5 to Sept. 8 between 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and 3 p.m.-8 p.m.
Incoming Cat tears ACL,
lost for the season
Jaden Mitchell’s next football game will probably come as an Arizona Wildcat.
Mitchell, a three-star wide receiver from Las Vegas, injured his left knee on Friday during the first game of his senior season at Desert Pines High School. The UA commit is not expected to return this year.
Mitchell told the Star that he tore his ACL and meniscus when he “made a cut on put return during the game and my foot (got) stuck in the turf and my knee popped.”
The 6-footer doesn’t think the injury will affect his college career with the Wildcats. Arizona’s coaches — safeties coach Jahmile Addae is the Wildcats’ main recruiter in Las Vegas, and Theron Aych coaches receivers — have assured Mitchell that he’s still a part of their plans.
“I have this whole season and offseason for rehab, so I’ll be good,” Mitchell said.
Rodriguez can’t directly comment on specific recruits per NCAA rules, though he did say on Tuesday that he honors the scholarship offers made to players who then get hurt. Arizona will typically pull the scholarship offer of a player who visits other schools or gets into academic or legal trouble.
“Just because of bad luck with injuries, we’ll stay committed to them. Then if he can’t play anymore, we’ll still bring him on and use him as a student assistant,” Rodriguez said. Extra points
• Arizona will release its weekly injury report for the first time this season on Thursday afternoon. Linebacker DeAndre’ Miller, tight end Jamie Nunley and offensive tackle Bryson Cain are likely to be ruled out, while safety Isaiah Hayes could be a game-time decision.
• The Pac-12 announced plans for a “test program” that will shorten the length of some of the conference’s games this week, and that includes Arizona’s matchup with NAU. The test will include a shortened, 15-minute halftime and shorter breaks between quarters as well as shorter (and fewer) commercial breaks. Rodriguez approves. “That’s probably better for everybody, especially the fans,” he said.
• Rodriguez said he’s happy for former UA quarterback Anu Solomon, who is expected to open the season as Baylor’s starter.
“Good for him,” Rodriguez said. “I love Anu. He’s a great young man, a talented guy, and sounds like it’s working out for him. We’re rooting for him.”