Tyler’s tale

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Troy's Tyler Vaughn (43) fields the ball during an NCAA college baseball game against Florida State.

Troy’s Tyler Vaughn (43) fields the ball during an NCAA college baseball game against Florida State. (File photo)

Troy’s Vaughn goes from walk on to All-American 

All Tyler Vaughn ever wanted to do was compete. He had no grand plans of playing infield for the Yankees, Braves or Dodgers.

In fact, his first college scholarship offer came from a Division III school…in cross-country.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

But that all changed thanks mostly to Vaughn’s work ethic, but also because of an old friendship between Troy head coach Bobby Pierce and Vaughn’s high school coach Jeff Vardo.

“When I first came to college, I came here to Troy State,” said Pierce. “Jeff Vardo was in charge of the fall baseball. I ended up leaving to go to community college, and Jeff coached high school in Florida and later North Carolina. He called me one day and told me he had this kid that he thought we would like.”

That kid was the undersized, self-described as “scrawny,” Tyler Vaughn.

Vaughn, along with Vardo and his father, made the trip to Troy for a visit, and the youngster immediately felt he was in over his head.

“The first time I cam down here, Coach (Mark) Smartt asked me if I wanted to sit in the dugout with the team during the Ontario game,” said Vaughn. “I didn’t go down there. I knew I was undersized and a boy among men.”

But Vaughn earned a spot on the fall team, and red shirted his freshman year. It was during that year that Pierce and Smartt first saw the determination and drive that has become Vaughn’s trademark.

Vaughn earned a spot on the travel roster, and played in a couple of games the next season, but his life changed completely in Daytona Beach, Fla. in the middle of his sophomore season.

After watching his every-day second baseman boot a couple of routine plays, Pierce made the call to start Vaughn at second base.

“I was throwing and getting loose in the outfield, and Ali (Knowles, Troy outfielder) came running out to me and told me that I was in the starting lineup,” said Vaughn with a broad smile. “I told him that he better not be playing around with me, or else. It was the truth, and I just wanted to compete.”

Vaughn responded to be added to the lineup by going 5-for-5 and knocking in three RBIs.

He was named Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week with three doubles, five RBIs and five runs scored against Samford and Bethune-Cookman in his first week as a starter.

Vaughn entered the starting lineup on March 3, 2012. He has not left it since.

But Vaughn has faced challenges since then.

Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Pierce moved Vaughn to shortstop.

“He didn’t want to do it,” Pierce said. “Not in a disrespectful way. He just felt like he couldn’t play the spot, but I knew he could. Tyler then did what he always does. He went to work to get better and he did it.”

Vaughn went on to finish the year with a .982 fielding percentage, and was named to the Sun Belt Conference First Team.

But Vaughn points to one at-bat during the season that sums up himself as a player.

Vaughn started the NCAA Regional Championship Game against Florida State with a 13-pitch at-bat before dropping a bloop single in to right field.

“My story is all about perseverance,” said Vaughn. “I have kind of been an underdog my whole life, especially since I got to school. That is the mentality I take on to the field every day. I may not have the ability or the pop in the bat that some of these guys do, but it is all about fighting for that one pitch.”

Vaughn, a 2013 Capital One Academic All-American, is entering his fifth season on campus at Troy, and knows his role has changed.

Veteran team leaders Logan Pierce and Nate Hill are gone, and Vaughn knows it is his time to step up and lead the Trojans towards another Sun Belt title.

“There is a mentality that goes along with being a leader that I am definitely going to have to embrace,” Vaughn said. “I have to make sure to keep my team up, and keep my team focused. I have been around for five years now, and I know how tough it can be to stay focused all the time. We all have the same goals, and we will push each other to reach them.”

Troy opens the 2014 season Friday against Northern Kentucky.