High school football: Cougars have gotten tougher, starting with safeties

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 4, 2021

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — Carson sophomore Trevor Vaughn remembers his first up-close-and-personal exposure to varsity football.

As a freshman, he was pulled up from the jayvees to provide depth for the Cougars’ game at West Rowan. The Falcons looked like NFL guys to Vaughn.

“Sitting on the sideline as a freshman, the game looked like it was moving way too fast,” Vaughn said. “I didn’t know if I could play with those guys.”

A year later, he’s playing with those guys, with no problem. Vaughn has gotten bigger, faster and stronger.

He’s still young. Most sophomores played jayvee football this season, but Vaughn was an impact, two-way player for Carson’s varsity as a safety and receiver. He was making more and more plays as the season progressed.

“It all started to slow down for him, and he definitely was one of our most improved guys,” Carson head coach Daniel Crosby said. “Once he had some games under his belt, he started making better decisions, and he’s got some physical ability.”

He is the son of Jeff Vaughn, a strong basketball player for Catawba in the early 1990s. He’s the younger brother of former Carson volleyball stars Laura and Jaden Vaughn.

Carson (4-5) has gotten better in every area since this season began. That’s why the Cougars won their last three games and made the 3A playoffs for the first time since 2016.

“One place where we’ve really picked it up is on the back end of our defense,” Crosby said. “Vaughn and (senior) Weston Lee, the safeties, have been playing really well. They’re two of our faster guys and they’re taking better angles than they were earlier. They’re making more tackles, getting some turnovers.”

Weston is the younger brother of Josh Lee, who played a variety of positions for the Cougars a few years ago, including quarterback.

At 145 pounds, Weston is quite a bit smaller than his brother was, but he’s quick.

“Josh taught me so much about the game,” he said. “I learned how to play football from him.”

In Carson’s pivotal road win at Central Cabarrus late in the season, Lee had a fumble recovery that led to a Carson touchdown. Vaughn had a 40-yard catch on one of the Cougars’ rare pass plays and wrestled the ball away from a Central receiver as they tumbled to the ground for the game-sealing interception.

In last week’s 42-21 win against South Rowan to close the regular season, Vaughn and Lee were huge again.

South put up a fight in the rivalry game, and while the Cougars were heavily favored they were clinging to a 7-0 lead late in the first half.

With 15 seconds to go in the half, Vaughn caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Burris.

The Cougars almost literally drew that play up in the dirt. Carson hadn’t run it all year, so there was no way the Raiders could have prepared for it.

“They had me line up in the backfield and run a wheel route,” Vaughn said. “I’d never lined up there and never practiced that route, but it was open. Hunter made a great throw and I caught it. It was my first varsity touchdown, so I’ll remember it. Mostly, I’m a safety, but I do love it when I get a chance to help the offense.”

No one tried to pick up Vaughn until he was sprinting free down the sideline. Burris hit him in stride.

That play loomed even bigger when South’s Jaden Moore returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown to get the Raiders within 14-7.

South had a great chance to stop Carson and get the ball right back, but Burris got to the corner on third-and-12 and ran for 20 yards to move the chains.

Carson drove to score. South went three-and-out. Carson drove to score. South fumbled. Carson drove to score, and it was suddenly 35-7.

Then it was Lee’s turn to put the Raiders away.

“Our coaches were telling me that they were going to try to hit the post route to (Bronson) Hunt,” Lee said. “They told me if I was patient, if I stayed in position and let that play develop, I’d have a chance for a pick.”

Hunt can motor, but when South did look for him on that post route, Lee was in perfect position to step in front of him and make the interception. Lee, who had a receiving touchdown against Mount Pleasant last spring, showed off his wheels and picked up some good blocks. He flew for the pick-six and made several Raiders miss along the way.

That made it 42-7, and that was the ballgame. The final was 42-21.

“Weston is one of those guys who is always in the right place, always doing what he’s supposed to do,” Crosby said. “We were happy to see him get a chance to make a big play like that. He deserved it.”

Carson faces a huge challenge on Friday when it goes to Crest, one of the top programs in 3A.

“We’re fired up and we’re excited,” Crosby said. “Crest runs the ball really well, but we’ll try to stop the run and make them throw it a little bit.”

If the Chargers do throw it, don’t be surprised if Vaughn or Lee makes a play.