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He’s not the flashiest player in the CFL. He doesn’t get an exceptionally high amount of love from the media, though if you were to venture into the Toronto Argonauts locker room or coaches offices, you’d quickly find that Cassius Vaughn is an integral part of the Double Blue defence.
Vaughn certainly didn’t feel a lack of love last November. He made one of the biggest plays in Argo history, scooping up a fumble and returning it 109 yards for a touchdown, breathing life into a team that would rally to beat the Calgary Stampeders 27-24 in the 105th Grey Cup game.
For some players, it would be easy to sit back and constantly reflect on that magical moment, but that’s not the way Vaughn rolls.
“I was excited about it,” Vaughn said of the play. “I watched it a couple times with my family, they were really happy about it. I was still in the moment with it. To be honest with you I just really became dad and husband all over again.”
He understood how important the play was, but left the celebrations to the fans while moving on to his next challenge, being Cassius Vaughn – person, as opposed to Cassius Vaughn – football player.
Focusing on the next challenge and attacking it with an equal amount of passion and precision has defined him as a player, and it’s made his role as the strong side or ‘Sam’ linebacker such a great fit.
When it comes to having talent in the secondary, Defensive Coordinator Mike Archer has great depth at his disposal. He could play the versatile Vaughn in a number of positions, but has opted to continue using him as the ‘Sam’.
The reason is simple.
“Because we do so much with that guy,” said the coach, “We like to blitz him, we play him in coverage, we like to put him on a skilled receiver, so it takes a guy with a lot of skill and a lot of knowledge and smarts and that’s what he brings to the table.“
When Archer spoke of Vaughn’s attributes, he immediately focused on the linebacker’s high football I.Q.
“He studies the game,” Archer told Argonauts.ca. “He knows it inside and out. He can tell you where the linebackers are supposed to fit, where the defensive linemen are supposed to be. He studies the game, not just the secondary and his position, but all positions because if affects him as to where he’s going to fit in the running game.”
Vaughn has the mental and physical abilities to play anywhere in the secondary, but he’s essentially been locked in one position throughout his tenure in Toronto.
Is he okay with that?
“I love playing ‘Sam’”, said the 30-year old, whose face lit up like a Christmas tree when he started talking about the intensity of the position. “The activity. I like to actually be a part of something that’s worth learning and studying.”
It was during this part of his conversation with Argonauts.ca that Vaughn said something that explains everything you need to know about his approach to the game.
“I personally see myself as a scientist,” said the Memphis, Tennessee native. “A scientist of the game. Not a student, but a scientist, because a scientist breaks something down to its simplest form. I look at the game like that at the ‘Sam’ spot.”
Vaughn has always taken the cerebral approach to the game and to life. He was a highly-recruited running back while playing high-school ball. Many major D-1 NCAA schools wanted him to join their program as a running back or receiver.
The teenager, however, was thinking ahead. Way ahead. He calculated he could make more money playing in the NFL as a cornerback. The career span is longer than a running back’s and the dollars paid to an elite corner made it an easy business decision. His analytical foresight led him to play his college ball at Ole Miss, where they wanted him to play the position of his choice.
After his career with the Rebels, Vaughn played six seasons in the NFL, where he recorded seven interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He also scored a TD on a kickoff return.
He eventually made his way north, playing the end of the 2016 season with Hamilton before being released. He signed with the Argos before the 2017 season for one primary reason, he wanted to show the Ticats they made a mistake.
It’s that direct approach to football and to life that has elevated Vaughn’s status in the locker room.
The Argos are blessed by having more than just one or two players who can be called a leader. Perhaps the most vocal member of the leadership group is Marcus Ball, the other starting outside linebacker who loves the intangibles brought to the team by Vaughn.
“He takes his principals and his values to heart and he carries himself that way,” said Ball, “It’s the same on the field. Each and every day he’s like a machine.”
Leadership comes in many forms. Some players are rah-rah types, their voice as big as their personality or their game. Others lead by example, waiting for the perfect time to make their point with a precise, well-placed nugget of motivational gold.
With the Argos, Ball is at one extreme of the spectrum. He’s vocal, energetic and enthusiastic. Ricky Ray on the other hand, though currently injured, picks his spots carefully, not often heard on game day outside the huddle.
Where does Vaughn fit in on a scale from Ball to Ray?
“If there could be an extreme both, that is Cassius,” explained Ball. “He’s an extremely vocal leader. He lines and sets and checks and makes it happen on the back end with communication. At the same time (he leads with) his play. He’s in the right spot all the time.”
The Argonauts think highly enough of Vaughn’s contributions that they signed him to a two-year contract extension in May. With the business side of things out of the way, it allows him to do what he does best, focus on the game.