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Wayne Cavadi | | September 19, 2018

How West Florida's Sam Vaughn went from Georgia practice squad to starting QB of last year's DII Cinderella team

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The road that West Florida quarterback Sam Vaughn has taken to DII football is certainly the one less traveled. Recently thrust into a starting role, Vaughn’s first win as a collegiate starting quarterback was more than four years in the making.

Vaughn's story begins in Florida, where he was an All-State quarterback for Fort Pierce High School. Upon graduating in 2014, he headed to the University of Georgia. A redshirt his freshman year, Vaughn spent four seasons on the practice squad, biding his time and learning so much more about the game than how to throw the ball.

“We had two head coaches, three different offensive coordinators," Vaughn said. "I gained a lot of valuable information on different kinds of offenses and just learning them. I had some great coaches and quite a few pretty good players go through there. Just being able to see what makes them great was something I took away.”

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Vaughn graduated with a degree in finance but still yearned to play football. West Florida had Vaughn on its radar, and it didn’t take much convincing to lure him in. The Argos have quite the resume, reaching the national title game in just two years of existence, and they play in one of the most scenic venues in DII at Blue Wahoo Stadium. But it was more than that. “I was looking for a place that I could go play, but a place that wanted me to come play.”

There was one problem. West Florida had its starting quarterback. Mike Beaudry was the reigning Gulf South Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year who was at the helm of the Argos' historic run last year. He was the incumbent starter, and Vaughn was set to bide his time again. 

Then came opening night

The Argos opened the season at home in prime time as part of the DII football showcase. Their opponent was no slouch either; No. 22 Carson-Newman, the South Atlantic Conference’s stingiest defense in 2017, was looking to make a statement. As expected, Beaudry was behind center and helped get the Argos out to a quick 6-0 lead.

But then Beaudry got hurt. Vaughn was finally going to get his chance. For the first time in four years, Vaughn was going to play live football.

"The coaches kept telling me they would try to get me in," Vaughn said. "(So) I prepared the whole week like I was going to be the starter. I thought I would get in there, but it came a lot sooner than I thought. Obviously, that’s tough for Mike [Beaudry], but I was grateful for the chance and tried to take full advantage of it.”

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The Argos went down to the Eagles in the second quarter and Vaughn had to lead the second half comeback. His first touchdown pass sealed the deal in a 19-9 victory and the reigning runners-up started the season on the right foot. More specifically, the right arm of Vaughn.

The Argos hit a speed bump on the road against then-No. 10 Midwestern State in Week 2 but returned home to dominate Shorter 51-7. Vaughn looked like a quarterback who had been behind center for years, throwing for 369 yards, three touchdowns and even running one in. Finally, for the first time since 2014, Vaughn had a win under his belt as a starting quarterback.

“The more reps that come at practice certainly helps, but there’s really nothing like a live game. It’s taken some knocking the rust off and I’m sure they’ll be more growing pains, but the more comfortable I get with everybody, I hope the more I’m going to grow. The coaches definitely understand that.”

Beaudry is getting healthier every day, giving the Argos the clichéd good problem to have. At the very least, Beaudry can watch and learn from a mentor who has seen plenty in his football career. Now, he's finally showing off all that he has learned.

That’s Sam Vaughn. The one-time practice squad quarterback for Georgia who now starts for West Florida. But really, who is Vaughn? Let’s go under the helmet and find out.

Favorite sports movie: Rookie of the Year.

Favorite NFL player: I’m a huge Aaron Rodgers guy. That’s the one person if I could meet, it would be Aaron Rodgers.

Most exciting player he saw come through UGA: I actually lived with Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Isaiah Wynn, and I thought all three of those guys were incredible. I had a different perspective, though, because I looked at them a little differently living with them. The one guy I would also say was Todd Gurley. I was a wide-eyed freshman when I first got there, and he was pretty incredible to watch.

Favorite candy: Skittles.

What’s in his headphones before a game: A little bit of everything. I’m a big Sam Hunt fan and a big Post Malone fan. I kind of just relax. My position, I don’t need to be over the top hyped up. It’s not like I got to go run through a wall or anything. I like to be in my own zone.

On a future in coaching: I’ve thought about it. I think it takes a special kind of person to coach. I’m not necessarily sure if I’m cut out for that kind of life. I definitely think I’d like to stay around the game.

On getting to play at Blue Wahoos Stadium: It’s awesome. That was definitely one of the selling points. Looking over the water like that is incredible.

On West Florida’s incredible early success: That was awesome. I had actually watched a replay of the national championship game, so I knew about West Florida. It’s incredible what Coach [Pete] Shinnick has done. That’s one of the things when they were recruiting me that they kind of stressed. Look at the success, they feel like they can only go up from there.

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