Steve Musco

Vincent Vaughns ’20 grew up playing basketball in his hometown of Sparr, Florida, where he distinguished himself with one defining characteristic. While he did not stand out as a lights-out shooter or an electric ball handler, Vaughns speed was unmatched.

Less than six years after competing in his first track and field event and a little over a quarter into his collegiate career, Vaughns has already solidified himself as one of the most talented sprinters in Yale history. The sophomore holds the school record in the 100-meter dash and also ran on the second leg of the Bulldogs’ record-setting 4×100 relay last spring. After setting new personal bests this indoor season in the 60- and 200-meter dash events, Vaughns is aiming to carry his momentum forward to the spring season and to continue to etch his name in the Yale record books.

“As Vincent’s times indicate, he’s one of the best sprinters ever to come through the program,” Yale track and field head coach David Shoehalter said.  “He’s accomplished so much in just two and half seasons in blue. He’s hardworking, encouraging to his teammates and provides a tremendous example of what it takes to be successful.”

Yet Vaughns’ journey to greatness did not come without hiccups along the way. After falling short of qualifying for the Florida high school state championships in his freshman season, Vaughns turned his disappointment into a hunger for redemption. Deciding to hang up his basketball sneakers the summer before his sophomore year to focus on track, Vaughns trained one-on-one with his high school coach, Tony McCall, a decorated track and field alumnus of the University of North Carolina.

Vaughns’ tireless efforts over the summer soon paid dividends, as he not only found himself at the state meet the following spring but also ended up as its sixth-place finisher in the 100-meter dash. As he excelled on the track, Vaughns also thrived academically, earning high honors at both the regional and state science fairs for achievements in computer science. He earned a full scholarship to attend Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire for his junior and senior years. 

However, in his debut season at Exeter, Vaughns tore his posterior cruciate ligament at the end of a race. The injury shifted Vaughns’ perspective on his college recruitment decision away from larger Division I state schools.

“That’s when I really started to realize the importance of academics and looking at all this as a long-term process,” Vaughns said. “I started to hone in on my academics as well as my athletics, and that’s when I more so started looking at the Ivy League. It really woke me up to realize that in just one race, it can all be over.”

After his knee recovered, Vaughns hit the track with a vengeance and finished his high school running career with five school records at Phillips Exeter, serving as team captain his senior year. With his eyes set on the Ivy League and a reciprocated interest from many of the Ancient Eight’s top track and field programs, Vaughns admitted that his college decision did not come easy.

However, after getting to know Yale better as an institution and meeting the program’s coaches and athletes, the Bulldogs started to pull ahead of the pack. Moreover, Vaughns was energized by the success of athletes such as Yale indoor 400-meter record holder Marc-André Alexandre ’17 and saw that Yale’s program helped its athletes reach their potential. Yet it was how he saw Yale away from Coxe Cage that ultimately swayed his decision.

“At the end of the day I had to think about what would be the best four-year experience as well as short-term experience,” Vaughns said. “I really thought about, ‘Four years from now, what school do I want to be affiliated with?’ Yale offered me the opportunity to study whatever I wanted, and I felt like they valued me most not only as an athlete but [also] as a student. It really just felt like home.”

Vaughns has certainly taken advantage of the scope of opportunities at Yale that sparked his interest in the first place and is engaged in several different realms of student life off the track. In addition to being an economics major, Vaughns is interested in studying finance and is involved with Yale Undergraduate Diversified Investments. Vaughns will work for Morgan Stanley this summer. The sophomore is also a member of the Black Men’s Union and Chi Alpha — a Christian youth group organization.

Yet despite all his success and engagement with Yale on and off the track, Vaughns does not want to be considered an anomaly, especially to kids from his hometown in Florida. Serving as a mentor to students at North Marion High School — where he spent his freshman and sophomore years of high school — Vaughns hopes to become a role model to students looking to reach the next level both athletically and academically.

“I try to show the [students] that I was no different from them and just show them not only what it takes to get accepted but [also] how to survive playing a sport while handling world-class academics,” Vaughns said. “Hopefully I can be of help to them in any way I can.”

With more than half his collegiate running career ahead of him, Vaughns has no intention of slowing down. This season, he has won the 200-meter race at the Villanova Invitational and the 60-meter race against Columbia and Dartmouth, while placing a close second in the 60-meter race at HYP.

Beyond setting more school records, Vaughns is eager to see himself not just at the top of the Ivy League but also as a top runner in the nation. Making it to the NCAA track and field championships is no small feat for any runner, but it is particularly rare for athletes in smaller conferences like the Ivy League. Only one other Bulldog, distance runner Trevor Reinhart ’19, has competed in the national championship races.

“When [Vaughns] comes to practice, it’s all track for him for those few hours everyday, even though he’s also challenged with his schoolwork and other extracurriculars,” Yale assistant track and field coach George Evans said. “He doesn’t cut corners with his time in the training room after practice or in the weight room. …  He comes to Coxe Cage everyday with the same enthusiasm.”

Vaughns will hit the track this weekend for the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships in Hanover. The meet begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

Ellen Margaret Andrews | ellenmargaret.andrews@yale.edu