Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2 ¾, 210 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A senior, Vaughn has only one season of eligibility remaining.
Depth chart: On the surface, Vaughn lost his chance at starting when shoulder surgery kept him out of all spring practices, but his competition to start opposite senior Troy Pride remains unproven sophomores Houston Griffith and TaRiq Bracy, so a strong preseason could certainly put Vaughn with the starters by Labor Day.
Recruiting: In part due to his length and the projections it sparked, Vaughn was a highly-touted prospect. The consensus four-star safety turned down Auburn, LSU and Miami to choose Notre Dame.
CAREER TO DATE
After his freshman season, Vaughn looked to be a primary piece from a group of young cornerbacks. Various issues in the Irish secondary forced Vaughn, Julian Love and Troy Pride all into action in 2016. While Love had 45 tackles, compared to Vaughn’s 22, the latter managed six pass breakups. His abilities in coverage looked ripe for years of development.
Instead, a back injury and some nerve issues slowed Vaughn’s progress, while Love became an NFL draft pick and Pride established himself as a multi-year starter. When Vaughn’s next chance to make a notable impact arrived, a shoulder injury limited his effectiveness in the Cotton Bowl as Love worked through an injury on the sideline.
2016: 10 games, four starts; 22 tackles with six pass breakups and one interception.
2017: 9 games; 6 tackles.
2018: 11 games; 13 tackles.
Vaughn’s absence may have shined a light on the youth in the spring, but Notre Dame at least had the peace of mind of knowing the veteran would be back in the mix before the fall.
“There’s enough (experience) there at every position,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring practices. “If you go across the board, we just talked about Houston (Griffith) — Donte Vaughn is going to be back with us in the fall.
“When you really dig down, there’s some young players, but there’s enough veteran presence at every position that it makes you feel pretty good. You’re not just turning it over to some guys who haven’t seen it, haven’t been around it, don’t know what it’s like.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“It is hard to envision Notre Dame pulling Love from many competitive moments. Thus, it is hard to expect Vaughn’s role to grow significantly this season unless he becomes a factor elsewhere. There are not many other opportunities available, though. Seniors Nick Coleman and Crawford provide the options needed at nickelback, while junior Troy Pride appears to have emerged as a reliable field cornerback, hence the outbound transfer of (Nick) Watkins.
“Nonetheless, dime packages exist and with reason in the current iteration of college football. A fourth cornerback will be needed, and that is where Vaughn will see most of his meaningful work.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Playoff semifinal and Vaughn’s terrible second quarter, it was hard to envision a path toward a contribution this season for the injury-prone senior. But time heals all wounds, and in Vaughn’s case, that may apply literally and figuratively.
The Irish may need him. Griffith had a challenging spring. The idea of trotting him out on the short side of the field to defend man-to-man may not be a reality that fares any better than an injured Vaughn did in that same situation against Clemson. Bracy, meanwhile, remains a bit undersized to be facing physical receivers. Someone with experience and size would be preferable in that moment. Know who has both experience and size? Vaughn.
It is often said a cornerback’s most important skill is his ability to forget his most recent failure. If Vaughn can display that and never remember how he handled the sport’s biggest stage, then he could emerge as the cornerback expected since his strong freshman season. If not, then the three touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl may become his lasting legacy.
DOWN THE ROAD
If Vaughn is not completely healthy, Notre Dame might do him the favor of not playing in more than four games. That would allow Vaughn a fifth season, one presumably spent somewhere else upon a graduate transfer.
Why would Vaughn not return in 2020 in such a situation? The Irish have the two sophomores, both of whom saw playing time last year and flashed at points, as well as two freshmen and three cornerback commitments in the current recruiting cycle. In a class already crunched for scholarships, retaining Vaughn to limit the grouping by one more would not be a wise investment with a number of other bodies already around at cornerback.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback
No. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback
No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star
No. 13: Lawrence Keys, sophomore receiver
No. 13: Paul Moala, sophomore safety-turned-linebacker
No. 12: DJ Brown, sophomore cornerback-turned-safety
No. 12: Ian Book, starting quarterback
No. 11: Alohi Gilman, senior safety
No. 10: Chris Finke, fifth-year receiver, second-year starter
No. 9: Cam Hart, freshman receiver
No. 9: Daelin Hayes, senior defensive end