ELKHART — When Sam Vaughan brought his Texas confidence to Concord 21 years ago, he had no idea he’d last this long.
In fact, he didn’t have any idea how bad the Minutemen were the season before he arrived.
Vaughan, now the longest tenured assistant on coach Tim Dawson’s football staff, figured it out quickly when he arrived for practice in August 1992.
“The first coaches meeting before fall two-a-days I asked, ‘So how were we last year? 0 and 9?’ I guess I should have researched that a little bit,” Vaughan said with a big grin and a chuckle.
“I just moved to Elkhart,” he said. “I didn’t know about Penn High School or Jimtown winning state championships. I volunteered for a team that went 0 and 9.” The rest, as Dawson said, “is history.”
Forget the immediate Xs and Os of offensive line play for a moment — one of Vaughan’s biggest attributes is the ability to convince kids they can succeed at the positions. It’s not always easy.
“It’s one of the issues we had at Concord in the early years,” said Dawson, who became the Minutemen head coach in 1989. “Everyone wanted to play defense or receiver or running back or quarterback. Nobody wants to play offensive line. But our kids want to play offensive line now. Sam’s brought that to the table.”
“He’s taught me a lot ... he’s a great role model,’’ said Ethan Beabout, Concord’s senior center. “He’s taught me everything. I didn’t have that good of an opportunity to play in junior high. Our line is undersized, but he’s taught me how to deal with it.”
“Since my freshman year, I wasn’t that good,” senior tackle Michael McQueen said. “He’s developed me, he keeps me working in the offseason, in ‘Zero Hour.’”
Size and speed can’t be created, but technique can be learned. Vaughan said he’s got very coachable players and that there’s a level of unmeasurable grit which makes this year’s Concord front wall special in his eyes.
“We work hard. We’re not the biggest, most athletic group we’ve ever had, but terms of heart, character and effort ... when we give good effort, we’re pretty good.”
Immunity to football injuries is rare and Concord, like all teams in the area, took their hits. For the Minutemen, it was a knee injury which shelved starting tackle Eriq Jordan for the season. Since then, it’s been a lot of Beabout, McQueen, Chris Hartpence, Tyler Kelly, Wesley Lee and Steven Gattman.
“We’ve got what we got,” Vaughan said. “I think we’re pretty good about getting linemen who enjoy playing line. We treat our linemen special. We’re not the most aggressive group sometimes ... we get accused of being pretty boy and finesse, but in our offense, pretty boy and finesse do the job.
“Being a lineman is tough ... the hardest job on the field. Every snap, every snap, every snap, you’ve got to hit somebody. It’s not so much of a sales job. We’ve been lucky enough the last 10 years or so to have kids stepping up to play.”
Linemen, as Dawson noted, are usually coveted by other linemen, family and friends, but few others. But those players count on Vaughan to keep spirits high and encouragement flowing when needed.
To ensure a broader teaching platform, Vaughan was adamant about making sure former Concord all-stater Kyle Magnuson, a two-year starter at the University of Wyoming, was part of this year’s staff.
“There’s no bigger cheerleader for them than Sam Vaughan,” Dawson said. “He’s passionate about that, he’s passionate about them and Concord football. He’s been great for me and he’s as loyal as the day is long.”
A good natured “teddy bear,” according to Dawson, and sporting his laid-back Texas drawl, Vaughan keeps drills loose and fun. But if you mess around in practice, you’re subject to the sharp horn of Concord’s coaching bull. He’s been known to drop the hammer on the boys now and then.
“It doesn’t happen, but when it happens, watch out,” McQueen said. “When he starts yelling, you know it’s serious.”
“He has serious moments, but he has fun with it, too,” said Beabout. “If you’re not doing the job, he’ll get loud.”
Vaughan and his Minutemen coaching colleagues are looking to maintain that balance between hard work and enjoyment this week as they gear up for a Class 5A semistate trip to Westfield on Friday, Nov. 22.
“They’re fun, they enjoy the game, they enjoy coming to practice,” Vaughan said. “It’s been a fun ride. It’s fun to be a part of a program like this that’s turned the corner ... at least I think we have ... where you can stay there and work with a great bunch of guys.”
Friday, Nov. 22
Concord (10-2) at Westfield (11-1)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Westfield High School field, U.S. 31 and S.R. 32.
Series: First meeting.
Radio/Web: WAOR 95.7, www.thefanmichiana.com.
TV: WHME TV-46, tape delay, 9 a.m. Saturday.