Razorback Q&A: Vickiel Vaughn
They say that good football programs don't rebuild. They reload. When one fantastic player gets injured or moves on, there is another stud right behind him ready to step in and make an impact. This theory could be put to test next season for the Hogs if All-American free safety Ken Hamlin opts to forego his senior season to enter the NFL draft. Waiting in the wings to fill Hamlin's very large shoes is freshman Vickiel Vaughn.
A headliner in the 2002 recruiting class, the Plano, Texas native was brought in as the heir apparent to the Razorbacks' free safety spot.
This particular position in Arkansas' defensive backfield has traditionally been a strong point of Arkansas defense, featuring stars such as Hamlin, Denver Bronco Kennoy Kennedy and Pro Bowler Steve Atwater. But Vaughn is not looking to be the next Atwater or Hamlin. He wants to be the first Vickiel Vaughn and leave his own legacy at "Free Safety U." But Vickiel doesn't expect the job to be gift wrapped and handed to him. He has spent the 2002 season toiling as a reserve and on special teams, biding his time, watching and learning from the older players.
Leaving his home and his family has been a challenge for Vaughn, but fortunately, he brought some of it with him. His twin sister Rochelle is a standout guard for the Lady Razorbacks' basketball team and Vickiel couldn't be prouder. He is her biggest supporter and she is his biggest fan, but that doesn't stop the two from constantly competing. Hawgs Illustrated sat down with the Razorbacks' next big thing at safety to find out why the force is so strong in his family.
Hawgs Illustrated: How tough has it been for you to adjust from being the man to being a reserve while you learn?
Vickiel Vaughn: Well, it's not really that difficult, because you have to know what you want to accomplish when you come in. When I came in, as a freshman, I just came in to help the team. I knew I would get my chance, but I didn't know if it would be this year or next year. You have to get used to everything, especially the faster pace.
HI: Does it make you a little hungrier, not being on the field as much right now?
VV: Always. You have to make every play count. You get a limited number of plays because many of the other players are playing the whole game. You wanna do something, so when you do step out on the field for a play or two, you wanna do your best.
HI: You tore your ACL during your junior year of high school. How did that affect you, physically and mentally?
VV: Truthfully, the ACL never bothered me. I just went to the doctor because my knee was swollen and they said I had torn it. I tried to play on it right after surgery. I see a lot of kids today who still have a limp. Right now my right leg is smaller than my left leg so I'm trying to get them back even. It's a contact sport, so sometimes injuries happen. You've got to play through it.
HI: A lot of people don't realize the total commitment that collegiate athletics requires. Have you been surprised by how demanding the life of a student athlete is?
VV: No. That's really what's needed for a freshman. It helps you come into the family.
The football team is your family away from home. It's good to be around the players a lot. As far as the meetings and stuff, you expect that. It's like your job. You know that football and your education are going to be your top priorities.
HI: If this is your family, then Ken Hamlin must be your big brother. How valuable has it been to learn from him?
VV: You learn a lot from every player, not just the one you're playing behind. I learn a lot from Ken just from seeing how he plays. Each older player brings something different to the table for a younger player. Older players always give advice on what you need to do and little stuff to help you. You might not think it's that big but when you get older you realize what they were saying and how they were trying to help you.
HI: What has surprised you this year?
VV: Nothing really. I think I was ready. We anticipate what's coming. I'm still a little kid and I'm enjoying every little part of it. I'm enjoying the traveling and going to the bowl. We're getting rings for the West championship. I'm excited. As a freshman, you look forward to everything that comes. You do have to adapt faster. I couldn't wait to play our first game. I only played special teams, but I was excited. I felt like I was in high school again. The atmosphere and the fans are so great. We sign autographs. Someone asks for my autograph and I'm like, "I don't play that much." But they want your autograph anyway. It makes you want it.
HI: How special is it to see the little kids coming up to you for autographs?
VV: That is the greatest thing you can experience. When you sign an autograph, you may not even feel like you're doing much for the team, but it makes any player feel good. It feels good when someone wants an autograph or a part of you. They ask for your gloves or your armbands. It makes you smile. That's why I loved fan day. People were so happy just to come watch us play. I love every minute of it.
HI: What has been the most difficult adjustment?
VV: If you're a mama's baby, it's hard to be away from mom. Being away from your family is tough, but you get adjusted because you're with a new family. You've got new responsibilities to take care of on your own. You are becoming an adult.
HI: What do you miss most about mama?
VV: The food. I know I'm not the only player to say that. When I'm at home I just ask mama to make something, and she's like "sure." I miss a home-cooked meal. That's the first thing I'm going to be looking forward to when I get home.
HI: How much of an affect did your sister coming here have on your decision to become a Hog?
VV: It never really played a big part. I never knew she was going to come to Arkansas. I had Arkansas on my list when I first started getting recruited. She didn't even have Arkansas on her list until she took a visit. After she took a visit, she decided to come here. Arkansas was one of my top three from the beginning. It has been great to have her here. It's great to have a piece of my family here with me. She's my best friend. We support each other in everything. I go to all her games when I can and she goes to all of mine. It's been fun. I still have somebody I can go talk to.
HI: How proud are you of her?
VV: People think I'm arrogant about my sister when I say my sister is going to be one of the top players to come out of Arkansas. I wasn't trying to be big-headed for her. I just know my sister's talent. She's been playing against boys her whole life so I know she's physical and she's ready. She's mentally more ready than any person I've seen.
HI: Since you two are the same age, do you ever try to get her to hook you up with her friends?
VV: I have a girlfriend that I've been with for four years, but she is my sister's friend. My sister introduced us.
HI: Your father played football with Houston Nutt in high school. Did that affect your decision?
VV: No. My dad was good friends with a lot of coaches. It's good to play with somebody you already know. But truthfully the decision was based on me and the school and how well I fit.
HI: It's still up in the air if Ken Hamlin will be back next year or not. Have you prepared yourself to be shoved into the spotlight if he does leave?
VV: I'm always prepared for anything that comes my way. It's just about stepping up. I feel like I could have done it this year. If he does leave then I wish him the best of luck, but I feel like I would be ready to take over.
HI: What is your favorite Christmas pastime?
VV: Singing. Ask anybody. Everything. I'll be in class and I'll just start singing until the teacher looks at me. Then I'll apologize and go back to my work. I guess I got it from my dad's side of the family. They're all singers. Other than that, I like basketball.
HI: Can you beat your sister?
VV: There was a story about me and my sister talking about how two days before I left, my sister beat me at one-on-one. I let her beat me. I told her if we played 10 games, she would only win one. I'm not gonna lie. She can't beat me.
Vickiel Vaughn during preseason workouts.