Sometimes it’s about more than championships. A world-class education matters, too. James Vaughters believes there’s nothing wrong with having both.
The Tucker High School football standout officially committed to Stanford University on June 17, ending one of the county’s most anticipated athletic courtships.
Academic excellence, the West Coast climate and a unique campus were among the deciding factors that left Ohio State, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Alabama all disappointed.
“[Stanford] is a global institution…and [it offers] the chance to win a national championship,” said 16-year-old Vaughters, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker. “I visited twice, and every time I got a [good] feeling about it.”
The only nagging regret, he said, is the distance between his roots and new home, which he hopes will one day lead to the NFL.
“I’d be a little homesick wherever I go, but this is just a way of getting the best opportunities,” he said.
Opportunities were never in short supply. Programs from every BCS conference have tracked his progress since his freshman year at Tucker. Vaughters eventually narrowed down the slew of offers to five schools.
Each, he said, was attractive for different reasons. He grew up rooting for Ohio State, Georgia Tech was closest to home, Georgia is the most revered program in the state and Alabama is the d efending national champion.
Vaughters made his mind up to become a Stanford Cardinal “a week or two” before the signing ceremony, attended by family and Tucker teammates.
“It was pretty even and it was an enjoyable process,” said Vaughters. “I called [Stanford] coach [Jim] Harbaugh last night, and he was with all the other coaches, who were clapping [at the announcement].”
Stanford’s coaches aren’t the only ones happy.
“We want him to enjoy his final senior year and not worry about ‘where am I going to go to school,’” said Tucker coach Franklin Stephens. “He’s been talking to coaches since the spring of his freshman year, and that’s a long time to be recruited.
“He did a great job selecting his final five schools, and he couldn’t have gone wrong with the choice he made. We’re lucky we have him for another season, and we want to get all we can out of him.”
Stephens helped Vaughters’ family throughout the recruitment process.
“This was a unique position James was in–he was a national recruit, and we never wanted to take that for granted,” said father Jonathan Vaughters. “We put in some work, helping him be responsive. But it was worth it, to give him the visibility and exposure that I think he deserved.”
Father accompanied son to several campuses and was pleased with the final decision. “As James said, Stanford’s academic reputation is not just national, it’s global.
“I know he’ll be taken care of both athletically and academically. Coach Harbaugh has a dream and vision to make Stanford a national champion. For somebody like James to be part of something like that, I think, really stood out. It gives him a chance to do something really unique.”