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Kid is a longshot, but one to root for

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  • Kid is a longshot, but one to root for

    Ex-Pack linebacker gets shot with Broncos

    Chase Vaughn can laugh about it now.

    It was seven springs ago, and Vaughn was dressing out for his first football practice at Colorado State University-Pueblo.

    “Here I am, getting my gear on — in my car,” he said, flashing his trademark smile. “We were practicing at Dutch Clark Stadium and the locker rooms weren’t even open. It was raining and snowing. I thought, ‘Man, what have I gotten myself into.’ ”

    A prized transfer from a rival school, Vaughn was the cornerstone of a resurrected CSU-Pueblo program that was dormant for 24 years. He was the guy, the one with shoulders big enough and an ego small enough, to set the standard for what would become Pack football.

    Vaughn’s football journey started in a car in the back of a high school stadium.

    It ended this week at a place called Dove Valley — where there is a “Chase Vaughn” nameplate on a locker at the home of the AFC champion Denver Broncos.

    Dreaming big

    Vaughn went to Smoky Hill High School and then played two years of football at Adams State College. When CSU-Pueblo announced that it was bringing back football, Vaughn immediately was interested. The coaching staff at Adams State was let go and Vaughn was allowed to transfer. Despite there being no team or stadium and a tradition that had been tabled for nearly a quarter-century, Vaughn was intrigued.

    The one thing he, and every player who was about to join him that first season needed, was vision.

    Head coach John Wristen and defensive coordinator Hunter Hughes camped out in tiny, windowless offices in the old school library. They wrote dozens of names, and erased dozens more, on white boards on the walls.

    Vaughn’s name had a circle around it.

    “I was sitting in the old library in this little room and Wristen and Hughes were telling me about how this was going to be a national power in five years,” he said. “They talked about how this team was going to have the No. 1 defense in the country. How the campus and the community were going to go crazy for it.

    “And you know what? Everything they said came true.”

    Vaughn bought into that notion, peddled to him by a couple of football salesmen. They promised him the world, at least the world in Division II football, and he accepted the challenge.

    There are but a handful of players on that original roster who would even get consideration from the coaching staff now. Vaughn could start tomorrow at any number of positions.

    Setting the standard

    The ThunderWolves went a miraculous 4-6 in 2008. There were more than 10,000 people at the season opener. They announced their presence with authority — and fireworks. Players and coaches spent time in the community, trolling schools and service organizations for fans and support.

    Vaughn was the poster child for Pack football.

    “He helped establish the way we do things around here and showed the other players just how hard they had to work,” Wristen said. “He was relentless and he played that way.”

    Four wins in that first year might be as impressive as three consecutive Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championships.

    “That was such a fun year that first year, but it was hard,” said Vaughn, who recorded 10.5 sacks in just 10 games, including a record 41/2 in the first game. “We worked so hard because we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves. And we wanted to set the standard on what it would take to be a part of CSU-Pueblo football.”

    In 2009, Vaughn had 70 tackles, five sacks and an interception, splitting time between outside linebacker and defensive end.

    In an amusing twist, Vaughn also scored two touchdowns. The ThunderWolves closed out their 7-4 season in 2009 with a 41-7 win at Adams State in Alamosa. Vaughn opened the game with a 1-yard touchdown plunge and closed it out, some 59 playing minutes later, on another one. It was the kind of stick-it-to-you moment between rivals that makes sports great.

    Football roulette

    After two years with the ThunderWolves, Vaughn proved to be a versatile player with a great motor. He thought he would get at least a free-agent tryout coming out of college.

    That phone call never came.

    “He was young for his age, graduating college,” Wristen said. “And we weren’t really established as a program in everybody’s eye just yet.”

    Vaughn then took the scenic route to Denver. He has played professionally in every league in North America except one — the NFL.

    The United Football League (three times). Indoor Football. Canadian Football. Arena Football.

    “I didn’t particularly like Arena Football. It’s a different kind of game and my dream was to play football outdoors,” he said. “I got cut once because of a numbers game and I played in the United League that went bankrupt in the middle of the season.”

    With his football options all but depleted, Vaughn took a job at National Jewish Health in Denver.

    For the first time in his life, he was surrounded by the three tiny walls of a cubicle, not teammates.

    And that just wasn’t working for the 6-foot-2, 251-pound linebacker.

    “I’ve been working with my trainer (Loren Landow) and he said I looked better than I ever have and that my agility and explosiveness were the best he’d ever seen with me,” Vaughn said. “He said, ‘We’ve got to get you seen.’ He texted the Broncos and they invited me in for a workout.”

    Vaughn’s workout was at the same time as veteran linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who the Broncos also brought in.

    Vaughn is on the 90-man roster. Tatupu isn’t.

    Finally, a chance

    Vaughn is 25, the oldest rookie in the Broncos locker room. He comes from a Division II school and has bounced around the fringes of pro football for five years.

    He impressed the Broncos so much last week at the team’s rookie minicamp that they signed him to a contract. He is on the 90-man roster and organized team activity begins next week with the mandatory minicamp starting June 10.

    The odds of him making the team are long, yet the best stories in sports history are written by underdogs.

    “It’s ironic that he’s getting a shot five years after he’s done,” Hughes said. “Can he make it? Sure. He’s one of 90 guys on that roster not named Peyton Manning trying to make the team.”

    Vaughn is humble by nature and talks in silky-smooth tones. When it comes to his abilities on the field, he has zero doubt.

    “I know I can play at this level, and it’s such a high level,” he said with confidence, not cockiness. “I look around the room and everyone here is an athlete. They are all strong and they’re all beasts and monsters.

    “The difference is making it mentally. Knowing the playbook and your alignments and techniques. They coach you up here and you’d better get it.”

    A journey that began in the parking lot of a high school stadium ended at the doorstep of excellence in the sport.

    “After I signed my contract and went into the locker room, I saw my nameplate on my locker. It was almost relief, finally getting a shot after five years. It eats away at you. You wonder all the time why some guys get a shot and some guys don’t. All I ever wanted was to get at least a shot.

    “Regardless of what happens, I made it to the NFL and no one can take that away from me.”

  • #2
    very cool, thanks for the info crow!


    • #3
      that is awesome

      “And you know what? Everything they said came true.”

      this is true. Pueblo/CSU took off the moment CSU said yes.


      • #4
        Good story. I hope he finds his way at least onto the practice squad. Or at the very least gets to play some snaps in the fourth pre-season game.


        • #5
          Maybe he will be the next Harris


          • #6
            Not sure if he has much of a chance but all he wants is a chance. I hope he can overcome the fact he had to hang in the town of Pueblo. Seems he has for the last few years. Good luck Vaughn!


            • #7
              I'll ask some of the Stamps fans around my office if they remember this guy from his stint up here.