Back Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn is a Star

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Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn is a Star

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ke'Shawn Vaughn deserves to be one of the nation's most talked about players this spring and summer.

Since the start of the new millennium, the only P5 RBs with 1,200 rushing yards. 7.9 ypc and multiple TD receptions in a single season are: Reggie Bush, Travis Etienne and Vaughn.

Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn is one of the best players in all of college football. The Illinois-transfer and Nashville product came back home and promptly reintroduced himself on the national stage, rushing for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns at a remarkable 7.92 yards per carry. Clemson's Travis Etienne and Darrell Henderson of Memphis, two Doak Walker Award finalists, were the nation's only other running backs to average at least 7.5 yards per try with a minimum of 150 attempts. Vaughn's story has a local feel; his game, however, is All-American.

Not long ago, though it may seem like it, Vaughn was a superstar at Pearl-Cohn High School, located right around the corner from Vanderbilt Stadium. He was a back-to-back 2,000-yard rusher, a captain, a leader on a team that advanced to the semifinals, twice an all-state honoree, the Mr. Football 4A Back of the Year and the 2014 Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year. Clearly one of the best prep players Nashville had ever seen, a move down the road, for Vaughn, has resulted in more of the same.

Friday to Saturday, Vaughn is now setting the stage for Sunday right where he spent his weekends growing up. Vaughn, in his old stomping grounds, is high-stepping his way to history.

When the new SEC media guide comes out, Vaughn will be prominently featured. Of players with at least 100 carries in a single season, his 7.92 yards per attempt ranks fourth in the conference all-time, behind just first round NFL Draft picks Felix Jones and Brent Fullwood and College Football Hall of Famer Hank Lauricella. Furthermore, his 18.69-yard average against Baylor in the Texas Bowl is the highest single game margin in the league, ever, for a player with more than ten attempts.    

Vaughn put an exclamation point on year one with the Commodores with his record 243 rushing yards and two scores versus the Bears in Houston. He, that evening, had separate bursts of 69, 68 and 66 yards. Notably, Vaughn's performance, coming on just 13 carries, was the highest individual rushing total of the entire postseason. As cited, it stands as one of the great bowl efforts in recent memory. The showcase was a fitting grand finale for the SEC Newcomer of the Year.

Prior to going big in the Lone Star State, Vaughn was productive and proficient in college football's toughest conference. He averaged 8.8 yards per carry at Georgia, caught a 75-yard touchdown pass against Florida and went for 481 yards and five scores in a three-game stretch versus Arkansas, Missouri and Ole Miss. Over his last four full games, Vaughn rushed for an astonishing 724 yards and seven touchdowns, all at a staggering rate of nearly 9.2 yards per attempt.  

As the Nashville-native emerged as more of an offensive focal point, Vanderbilt found its rhythm; the Commodores went 3-0 in games where Vaughn had more than 15 rushing attempts. 

Year one in the SEC was a truly rare run for Vaughn, one that needs even more context to be properly appreciated. Since the start of the new millennium, the only Power Five running backs with 1,200 rushing yards. 7.9 yards per carry and multiple touchdown receptions in a single season are: Reggie Bush, Etienne and Vaughn. 

Vaughn, Vanderbilt's new face, deserves to be one of the nation's most talked about players this spring and summer. It's a distinction he has worked hard to earn. Still somehow underrated, Vaughn is the SEC's returning leader in both rushing yards and yards per carry and is tied for first in rushing scores. He leads an impressive collection of skill position talent for the Commodores that also includes wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney for promoted offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski.   

Opting to return to Vanderbilt for his senior season instead of declaring early for the NFL Draft, Vaughn, mere minutes from his famed high school days, is taking memorable next steps. This is more than just a feel-good tale of a local prep star successfully returning to his roots. This, with the momentum of that motivation, is a career for the record books. Not only is Vaughn a great story, he should be on the cover, too.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports