Antonio Vaughan knew he wasn’t big enough to play quarterback at the collegiate level.
So when Old Dominion University began to talk to him about the idea of switching positions, he was all ears. It didn’t really matter whether he was going to be asked to play wide receiver or defensive back, as long as he could be on the field contributing.
On the flip side, ODU’s coaching staff gained a versatile athlete who has definitely landed on one side of the ball – the offensive side – but hasn’t been limited to just playing receiver.
As the Monarchs prepare for tonight’s game against Albany, they have on their charts a 5-foot-8, 175-pounder who appropriately wears No. 5 for ODU. The number fits because that’s how many things he does well.
1) He receives well: Coming into the season, the native of Ahoskie, N.C., had hauled in 107 passes for 1,405 yards and has found the end zone 12 times.
2) He blocks well: “The coaching staff makes it clear that if you aren’t going to block, you aren’t going to play. I’ve made it a point to become a good blocker.”
3) He returns kickoffs well: In last season’s 64-61 victory over New Hampshire, Vaughan returns a kickoff 83 yards.
4) He returns punts well: Against William and Mary last season, Vaughan rambled 70 yards for a touchdown on a punt return.
5) And yes, he passes the ball well: In his redshirt freshman season two years ago, the Monarchs broke out a little razzle-dazzle play as Vaughan hit Reid Evans on a reverse-option pass for 27 yards and a touchdown. He pulled off the same play earlier this season in the opener at East Carolina, hitting Larry Pinkard for a 32-yard gain.
“That’s always a fun play for me and I love when we run it,” Vaughan said.
The Monarchs run it because Vaughan delivers.
“We’ll work on it in practice and he’ll throw the ball 50 yards on the fly while he’s on the dead run,” ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. “He really has a nice arm.”
It’s his legs, however, that get him on the field. Coming out of Hertford County High School, Vaughan was a three-sport star, playing basketball and running the sprints in track to go along with his football exploits. The Monarchs coaching staff, in fact, didn’t have a chance to see him play in person during the football season when Vaughan was a senior, so they went to watch him play basketball instead.
“A kid like Antonio will show you on the basketball court just how explosive he is as much as he’ll show it on a football field,” Wilder said. “And he certainly showed us.”
Vaughan redshirted during his first year with the program, but says that has turned into a blessing.
“It means I’ll be on the receiving end of Taylor Heinicke’s passes for four years,” Vaughan said.
And that can be a very good thing. Another good thing for the program is the success that ODU’s coaching staff has had recruiting quarterbacks and moving them to other positions.
ODU has four players on its two-deep roster these days that were quarterbacks in high school but have played different positions in college: Vaughan, outside linebacker Paul Morant, cornerback Aaron Evans and true freshman Gerard Johnson who has seen time already this season at running back.
“High school coaches often realize that their best chances of winning normally include putting their best athlete at quarterback,” Wilder said. “So you end up finding a lot of good athletes there. We aren’t afraid to consider a quarterback at another position when they advance from high school to college.”
It’s been a great move for Vaughan, who is often scrambling for tickets on the weeks of games. With his friends and family less than an hour and a half away, he gets a lot of requests for tickets. Fortunately, he’s made friends with a lot of the players on the team from faraway places like California and Texas and can often talk them into shuffling their four complimentary tickets his way.
“I don’t mind,” Vaughan said. “If they want to come watch me play – and I certainly want them to – I’ll make an effort to see if I can find extra tickets.”
That’s Vaughan, going the extra mile, on and off the field.