Four-star prospect Donte Vaughn celebrated his 18th birthday by making the most important decision of his life.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound cornerback from Whitehaven High School in Memphis, Tenn., committed to Notre Dame on Monday over offers from Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and several others. He actually told the Irish coaching staff that he was coming during his official visit, back in September when Notre Dame hosted Texas.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Vaughn told Irish Illustrated. “It’s the best education and big-time football. I can’t say enough about it.”
Vaughn tweeted a photo edit from the Notre Dame recruiting staff that wished him a happy birthday.
Vaughn first visited Notre Dame back in June and landed an offer. He immediately added the Irish to his short list of favorites, where they remained as he checked off the other contenders.
The cornerback got back to South Bend with his parents in July, then used his official to watch Notre Dame’s season-opener against Texas.
Each visit was better than the last and Vaughn knew he belonged in South Bend.
The four-star athlete is Notre Dame’s 16th commitment in this class and second from a cornerback, following Julian Love from Chicagoland.
Vaughn began his high school career as a quarterback/wide receiver then switched positions as a sophomore.
“As a sophomore we took a chance and I was like, ‘Hey, what do you think about playing corner?’” said Whitehaven head coach Rodney Saulsberry. “And I gave him an option to play on the defensive side of the ball and he was just like a fish to water and the rest is history.”
During the past three seasons, Vaughn has emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.
“He brings an asset that you can’t coach,” Saulsberry said. “He’s long. Being 6-3 playing corner in this day and age when receivers are basically monsters out there, he gives you an advantage you normally don’t have at the cornerback position. He’s extremely athletic too and that helps. He’s a natural athlete and he’s learned a lot and become a technician. He’s steadily improving technique-wise, but the raw ability is just off the charts. The upside potential is great for him at corner.”
Vaughn’s size is one of his greatest attributes but his football IQ and work ethic set him apart from his peers.
“I think he’s an asset at corner because he gives you something that you don’t have. He’s that corner that can match up with those big receivers and he can play the jump ball in the red zone. He can defend that,” Saulsberry said. “He does a great job. He’s one that leads by example. He’s one of our team captains this year. It makes it easy because he works and studies his craft. He takes time with the young guys, leading the group and doing the fundamental drills to teach them. The things we teach, he relays it to the younger group, so again his leadership ability. He’s a willing learner and takes the coaching very well. The sky is the limit with him on and off the field.”
Saulsberry, who in his 12 years at Whitehaven has coached more than 100 players who went on to play football in college, believes Vaughn has what it takes to make an immediate impact at the next level.
“I think he’ll actually be able to adapt very well,” Saulsberry said. “I think he might be better playing on the outside. He may not be better at the nickel spot. That’s where all the quick-twitch guys, those slot guys are running, but I think he easily can come in as a freshman and play on the outside. He can be the field corner and be a matchup for some of those big receivers they have in the college game right now.”
Vaughn will become the eighth prospect from Memphis to play at Notre Dame and the first since Trezevant High’s Antwoine Wellington did in 1997. The others include end Frank Canale (1931-34), defensive end Willie Fry (1973-77), split end Bill Hurd (1967), defensive end Thomas Knight (1993), quarterback Hugh (Red) Magevney (1921) and guard Joe Signaigo (1943-47).