Young Kicker Learning To Deal With The Pressure

<b>Editor's Note: John Vaughn is looking to turn in a much better performance as the field goal kicker in 2004 after a less then stellar season as a true freshman. This is the eighth in a series of summer features on on current and former Auburn athletes.</b>

Auburn, Ala.--In sports athletes can feel enormous pressure from numerous outside sources. They can feel the heat from the fans, from their coaches, from their families and even from their friends.

However, Auburn kicker John Vaughn says the strongest pressure of all hits even closer to home. "The toughest thing about kicking is I probably put too much pressure on myself," the 6-1,196-pound sophomore says. "I was fortunate to have a lot of success in high school and I had a lot of help around me.

"Then, I got here and I put a lot more pressure on myself than I should have so that is probably my biggest struggle right now. I expect a lot out of myself sometimes and I am pretty hard on myself when I don't get it."

After missing only five kicks in his four-year career at Brentwood, Tenn., Academy, Vaughn was asked to step into a pressure situation as a freshman when he was named Auburn's starting kicker early in the 2003 season when Philip Yost slumped.

"It was a real big difference," Vaughn explains about kicking in front of 86,000 fans. "The change was pretty difficult to make, but I am optimistic about this season. I think I'll be ready to go with it, but it was definitely a new world and something that I wasn't used to--a lot different than high school."

Vaughn says that stepping into that new world as a true freshman certainly had an effect on him last year when he went 6-10 in field goal attempts and missed three kicks from inside 39 yards, which was a first in his career. "I think I did let it get to me some," he notes. "They say it is just like practice and it shouldn't matter, but I think there were occasions where I let it get to me, but I am working to get through that and I should be ready to go."

Vaughn kicks during a practice last fall.

Despite a less than ideal freshman season, Vaughn says that he couldn't be happier that he was given the chance to kick for the Tigers last season. "It was real exciting," he says. "It was a real privilege and I thank the coaches for giving me the opportunity to do it. I am going to work hard and just try and keep improving every year that I am here."

The sophomore adds that the experience that he gained in 2003 should pay dividends for him in 2004. "I think that gives me a tremendous edge going into my sophomore year," Vaughn explains. "You know, it is just different. Freshman year I came out and my first game I was out there warming up and I had never been in that atmosphere before.

"But, now that I have been through it, I know what game days are like," the former All-State selection from Tennessee says. "I know what the crowds are like. I know what the speed of the game is and it is going to be a whole lot of help."

To go along with last season's experience, Vaughn is putting in a lot of time over the offseason to make sure he is at his best come September. "I have been kicking about every other day this summer," he explains. "I have been working really hard and as a group the kickers have been out there trying to get better and hopefully we can have some success.

"I have actually been kicking really well this summer so far," Vaughn adds. "I am hitting the ball good and getting confident and trying to build up for the season. Generally, I'll go out and hit about 40 field goals a day, whether they are from the hash, the middle or in-between. Or, I will kick down the lines for drills and stuff like that."

Vaughn also notes that along with his improved ball striking over the summer he has improved in another key area. "I am kicking from about 50-yards and in right now," he says. "I worked a lot in the off-season and my leg has gotten a little stronger, so I am about 50-in right now."

Another area the kicker is looking to improve on in 2004 is fighting through adversity. "When I am in a slump, I usually just try and break it down to fundamentals," Vaughn explains. "I back up and work on it from the start and just figure out what is going wrong and try to make that weakness my strong point."

He adds that if there is a breakdown that it is often times a combination of different factors. "It is usually about half-and-half," Vaughn says about a slump being both a physical and mental problem. "If you have a mental block you may be kind of forgetting to do something physically as well so they kind of go hand-in-hand. Usually it is about half-and-half, but most of the time I can find something in my mechanics, the kick, that I am not doing right."

If things do go wrong, Vaughn says he has a strong support system to lean back on, but says he hopes they almost become long lost friends. "I have got people back home that I call and talk to," he says. "Generally, I try and do that if something is not going right, but hopefully I won't have to make many of those calls from now on."

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