Jason Vaughn’s rise to leadership

Senior defensive end Jason Vaughn looks to build off of his breakout 2022 campaign. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The past few years have been rough for USF football, but in senior defensive lineman Jason Vaughn’s eyes, everything happens for a reason.

He didn’t receive a Division One scholarship offer as a high school senior at Miami Palmetto, but after a post-grad year at Academy Prep, he committed to TCU on Nov. 25, 2018. However, he would decommit and accept an offer from then-head coach Charlie Strong to play closer to home at USF. 

“I feel like there was a lot of glamor and flashy lights and all this nice looking stuff. And that drew me [to TCU],” Vaughn said. 

“Committing to USF gave my family the opportunity to come to see me play… that wouldn’t have been able to happen if I was all the way in Fort Worth, Texas.”

To Vaughn, family is everything. He is the second oldest of four brothers. He said he and his siblings bonded through their love of video games and being outdoors. 

“There was always friendly competition between us. That’s just how it is growing up with four brothers,” Vaughn said.

Since joining the Bulls in 2019, he’s seen the program evolve, particularly in its coaching.

Vaughn has played under three head coaches and four defensive coordinators throughout his career.

However, he doesn’t see the coaching changes as a bad thing. Instead, he said he’s glad that he has been able to learn different defensive schemes and hear different perspectives.

“It shows my versatility and what I can do, it made me feel like I could be anywhere and be in a position to perform at a high level,” Vaughn said.

In December, Alex Golesh was hired to take the head coach position for USF. When Vaughn met Golesh the following month, he said he remembered not knowing what to expect from the meeting.

When Golesh spoke to Vaughn and his teammates about transforming the team’s culture, Vaughn knew he had to honor the commitment he made to the program when he signed on five years ago. 

“I just think that for this school to take a chance on me, a guy with no offers out of high school, had to go prep school, I felt like it was only right for me to take a chance on the program when it changes,” Vaughn said.  

Heading into the 2023 season, Vaughn is expected to build off of his strong campaign last season.

In 2022, he led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. His 35 tackles for the year ranked second among defensive linemen.

During the offseason, he was one of four Bulls to make an Athlon Preseason All-AAC team.

He recently switched his jersey number from 40 to four, becoming the first Bull to wear the number since Greg Reaves. Reaves was the senior defensive end playing ahead of Vaughn, who was a freshman at the time, during the 2019 season. They bonded on and off the field as Reaves took him under his wing.

“I looked up to [Reaves] a lot as a big brother type, so I decided to just get it back for him,” Vaughn said.

The number has multiple meanings to the defensive lineman. He said it represents his place as one of four brothers and also that he has completed four collegiate seasons.

Vaughn’s experiences with the program and tight-knit bond with his brothers have given him a perspective that he shares with younger players. 

After Golesh’s hiring date, 24 players transferred, according to 247Sports. As one of the players who stayed during the Bulls’ change of leadership, the coaching staff has challenged Vaughn to be a leader. He said he is still learning to be more vocal among the new players.

“I never really felt like a leader, but I am,” Vaughn said. “So for me to embrace that role, and continue to pour into these young guys and try and show them how it’s supposed to look. I think that’s the biggest thing I want to do for them.”

Special teams coordinator and outside linebacker coach Chad Creamer was hired in December with Golesh’s inaugural staff. Creamer said he has seen the impact of Vaughn’s presence in the locker room.

“He’s been here for a while. He’s a veteran so he’s been around, he’s seen change. He’s seen a lot of coaches and guys that come through so he’s experienced from that standpoint,” Creamer said.

“Nothing really shakes him up and I think that he has been a calming force for guys that are new. They are experiencing a lot of different things and [Vaughn’s] been there, done that. So I think that experience from his end has been huge.”

Creamer said he sees Vaughn as a vital part of helping the Bulls reach their goals this season. They plan to use him in different roles because of his versatility as a pass rusher and his ability to play in space.

“Obviously, we have high expectations for him and are excited to see his hard work pay off because he’s put in the time he’s worked his butt off,” Creamer said. 

“Since we’ve been here in December… and the way he’s gone about his business all summer, he’s put himself in a position to have a great year and help us defensively and as a team obviously strive to reach our goals.”