Trojans’ Tyler Vaughns is looking for a breakout year

Making the right decision to make a big play at the right moment for any college football player could mean the start of something new. For the University of Southern California, their big playmaking fifth-year wide receiver Tyler Vaughns made the decision to stay as a Trojan, giving himself the opportunity to possibly rewrite the history books for USC football. 

“After much consideration and reviewing my options with my family, I have decided to trust my heart and return to the University of Southern California for the 2020 season,” Vaughns wrote in a statement on Twitter when he made his choice this past January.  

The decision to stay for the upcoming football season allowed Vaughns to complete his undergraduate program, receiving a bachelor’s degree in communications in the spring.

On the field, Vaughns is one of the top offensive threats for the Trojans. Not only is Vauugns expected to put up big numbers while lighting up the scoreboards at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but he’s also burdened with following in the footsteps of the great lineage of past USC wide receivers. 

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© News4usonline – USC wide receiver Tyler Vaughns attempts to grab this pass from quarterback J.T. Daniels in the Trojans’ 39-36 win against Washington State at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

The Trojans have been known to produce elite wide receiver talent from the football program, such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Keyshawn Johnson, and Lynn Swann. Vaughns can secure his place among the Mount Rushmore of USC wideouts with a strong senior season in 2020.

Not only is Vaughns trying to ink his name into the USC history books, but he is trying to fill the shoes of former leading receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who declared for the 2020 NFL Draft and went to the Indianapolis Colts in the second round. Vaughns will look to become a leader in a relatively young receiving core with the likes of sophomore Drake London, redshirt freshman Bru McCoy and true freshman Gary Bryant Jr. 

The receiver room can use the senior’s experience and guidance to help mold the tantalizing abilities of redshirt freshman Kyle Ford and McCoy as they transition into the next great Trojan flankers. Right now, the Trojans are lacking experience at the wideout position, so Vaughns’ choice to stay at Southern California is good for USC. 

© News4usonline – USC wide receiver Tyler Vaughns (21) and Michael Pittman Jr. (6) meet up in the endzone during the Trojans’ 52-35 win against crosstown rival UCLA on Nov. 23, 2019. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

“This ball gets spread around and that’s the beauty of this thing you can’t just double one guy and Tyler is a huge part of this offense,” USC head coach Clay Helton said when speaking to News4usonline at his weekly Zoom webinars with the media. “Being a kid in his senior year, since he was a freshman, he’s played a lot of ball. He provides a comfort level at any time he walks out there. You know you got a chance.” 

Vaughns decided to redshirt his freshman year in 2016. Since officially taking the field for the Trojans, Vaughns has been a critical component to the wide receiver group ever since. The clutch, sure-handed Vaughns will start for his fourth season at wide receiver.

During his time as a Trojan, Vaughns has 189 receptions for 2,395 yards with 17 touchdowns. He also starred on special teams, amassing 254 punt return yards with one touchdown. He is ninth on USC’s career receptions list with a total of 189 catches and has seven 100-yard receiving games in his career.  Overall, Vaughns has appeared in 39 games for the Trojans and started in 33 of them. Last fall, he caught 74 passes for 912 yards, averaging 12.3 yards per catch with six scores.

“I’m well aware of the numbers. My screensaver actually has the numbers I want to reach this year for my goals,” Vaughns said in an interview with TrojanSports.com. “I see it every day, I visualize it and I want to attack it.”

Vaughns, along with his teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown, has been named to the watch list for the 2020 Biletnikoff Award,  which is given to the nation’s top wide receiver by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation.

© News4usonline – USC wide receiver Tyler Vaughns (21) caught six passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against UCLA on Nov. 23, 2019. The Trojans defeated the Bruins, 52-35. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

When All-American wide receiver Marqise Lee was USC, he became the school’s only recipient of the Biletnikoff Award when he was honored in 2012. USC has had four finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, including Keyshawn Johnson in 1995, Mike Williams in 2003, Dwayne Jarrett in 2005 and Robert Woods in 2011. Speaking of Woods, Vaughns is within reach of breaking Woods’s career receptions mark, just needing 63 to match the record. That number is expected to be broken easily as the durable Vaughns has played a total of 2,304 snaps. 

“That’s my main focus going into this year is I just really want to help my team the best way I can while trying to meet my goals,” Vaughns said with Trojansports.com. “I’m not going to sit here and say that I thought I would be here for five years, but I did see myself beating records. That was a goal of mine going into high school [at Bishop Amat] as well as into college. In high school, I broke my records there, and I wanted to come here and do the same thing.”

Vaughns will be receiving passes this season from sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis. With Pittman moving onto the NFL, Vaughns will most likely be Slovis’ main target. They can build off any chemistry they had last season and become a triple threat with St. Brown in the Trojans air-raid offense. 

“The more and more you play with Kedon, the more you understand how he thinks. He’s more of a technical guy. So just knowing him, you’ve got to just be on his steps, be on his keys and everything like that,” Vaughns said of his quarterback. “Once you get to knowing where he needs you to be, if he sees you’re hot, he’s going to keep you going and make sure you stay hot.”

Slovis is confident with his receiving core and was not worried about Vaughns or any other players potentially opting out of the season or leaving. He believes that there was no need to speak to Vaughns and the team in regards to staying together.

“I don’t really talk to them exclusively about it because they were there every day, they didn’t miss a workout the whole summer,” Slovis said as a guest on Trojans Live in September. “They were out there every day. There wasn’t really any worry about them leaving too much.”

Vaughns will look to keep his standards high when playing in the coronavirus-shortened season. If he replicates or exceeds his production from last season, Vaughns could be a top NFL draft prospect. If Vaughns continues to climb steadily over the past Trojan greats by breaking records and being a Biletnikoff award finalist, he’ll have a strong chance at possibly being the 16th Trojan wide receiver drafted since 2000.   

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