After long wait, Vaughn ready for primetime

NASHVILLE – Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been counting the days until he finally suits up for Vanderbilt.
“It’s felt like a long time,” Vaughn said. “I keep saying it’s been two years, but I guess it’s really been a year and a half. It just feels longer than that.”
No matter how you measure it, the calendar has flipped many times since Vaughn, Vanderbilt’s redshirt junior running back, last played in a college football game. In fact, the date was November 12, 2016, when Vaughn was a sophomore tailback at Illinois playing in a matchup with Wisconsin.
Fast-forward 21 months. Now Vaughn is a likely leader in Vanderbilt’s running back corps as the Commodores prepare for Saturday’s home opener against Middle Tennessee (6:30 p.m. SEC Network Alternate). To the fourth-year veteran, the payoff will soon be worth the wait.
“Really, I’m excited,” Vaughn said. “I’m ready to go out there and compete with a bunch of great guys beside me.”
Vaughn arrived at Vanderbilt last summer after having started eight games in two seasons at Illinois, where he amassed 1,024 total rush yards and nine touchdowns. The Nashville native had earned the team’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year award after rushing for a team-high 723 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman in 2015. But a depth chart shakeup in 2016 pushed Vaughn to look elsewhere for a culmination to his college career.
Nashville was home for the 5-10, 222-pound tailback, who had rushed for 2,646 career yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior Pearl-Cohn High in 2014. Vaughn had earned Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year honors that year, and he ultimately signed with Illinois as the state’s premier running back prospect.
Once at Vanderbilt, Vaughn turned heads as a scout-team running back during a redshirt season in 2017. He continued that trajectory into spring practice and fall camp, where Vaughn has since emerged as one of the leaders of the running back corps.
“Experience holds a lot of weight,” Vaughn said. “Coming in with experience from the Big Ten and transferring that to the SEC, it’s a bit different. But you still have that competitive drive you always had. Sometimes you just end up being a leader, and that’s what this is. It’s just how I carry myself on and off the field.”
Vanderbilt enters 2018 having lost running back Ralph Webb, the program’s all-time leading rusher and a four-year starter, but it returns plenty of experience like Vaughn, fifth-year contributor Khari Blasingame and sophomore Jamauri Wakefield. This week, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said he was pleased with his group of running backs but also offered praise for Vaughn’s specific talents.
“I feel like Ke’Shawn Vaughn is the beast we thought he was,” Mason said.
That’s no news to Vaughn.
“I’m hard on myself,” Vaughn said. “I judge the small things. Somebody else might think one thing is perfect, but I’ll see something to work on. This fall, my pass protection and receiving have improved a lot in camp. All the running backs compete, and that keeps the room at a high level and keeps us playing at a high level.”
Vaughn’s next chapter at Vanderbilt begins on Saturday against Middle Tennessee. But he isn’t driven by individual goals; instead, he hopes to help the Commodores make their mark in the SEC in 2018.
“I’m just excited to get a win and keep moving up from there,” Vaughn said.
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.