Justin Vaughn sat on the couch in his dorm room at Fordham University in New York staring at his laptop. Every 30 seconds, the CFL Draft Tracker would refresh and he would hope to see his name. It was a slow and agonizing process.
More than 750 km away, Vaughn’s father Mike sat on the couch in his family home on the West Mountain watching the livestream of the draft . He was nervous, too. So to pass the time, father and son chatted away on Skype.
Following along on his phone, Justin’s 15-year-old brother Quincy figured it out first.
“Hey Dad, I think Justin just got drafted by the Ticats,” he said.
Soon, they were all in tears.
Mike Vaughn came to Hamilton in 1989 to play football, spending the latter part of the season on the Ticats practice roster as a back up running back. He played in one game, against Winnipeg, and was released the following season.
But instead of going home Colorado, Vaughn stayed in Canada.
“I met my wife, fell in love, started a career and been here ever since,”Vaughn said. “I loved the country, loved the city and people treated me well so I decided to stay.”
Three sons would follow and they all found their way to football. Mike was involved in Justin’s development at every level, including home workouts so gruelling they’d spend the rest of the evening in an uncomfortable silence.
“My Dad knows what it takes and he put me through a lot of stuff during those workouts and I’d be so angry I just didn’t want to talk to him,” Justin says now. “I was just a stubborn kid who thought he knew what the world was.
“He wanted this for me but he never pushed me. He showed the way but it was up to me to follow through.”
Despite a stellar career as a linebacker at Sir Allan McNab high school, it took a year at the sports academy Canada Prep in Welland to get Justin on the radar at NCAA programs. It required an investment by the family and it came after a tearful conversation in which Justin told his father that playing professional football was the thing he wanted most.
“It was fulling for me because I know what his dream was,” Mike said. “I’ve seen the work and the sacrifice, his dedication to his dream.”
That extra season led to a scholarship offer from Fordham where Vaughn blossomed into a dominant force along the defensive line (growing to 6-foot-5, 285 pounds didn’t hurt, either.) As a senior last season, Vaughn was named first team All-Patriot League and the Ram’s defensive player of the year.
Vaughn comes to a Ticat squad with plenty of talent and depth at the defensive tackle position, including perennial all-star Ted Laurent and fourth-year man Mike Atkinson as well as youngster Evan Gill. The team will likely start at least one Canadian at the position and possible two.
“Given his stature, I’m hoping that Ted is willing to teach me some of the tricks that he’s learned over the years,” Vaughn said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
With just a few weeks before training camp, Vaughn will finish up his degree in sociology and anthropology – he’s got an exam and two essays left – before heading… well, home.
“Coming full circle isn’t something many people get to experience,” Vaughn said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. Beyond happiness.”