ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Chase Vaughn‘s journey to the NFL took him through two small Colorado colleges and four professional football leagues before he called in sick from his hospital job to covertly try out for the Denver Broncos.
When he was offered an invitation to training camp last year, he had to quit his day job at National Jewish Health and `fess up to his fib: He wasn’t really stricken with the stomach flu; he just couldn’t seem to shake this football bug.
It had such a hold on him that he’d played in the United Football League, the Indoor Football League, the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League since graduating from Colorado State-Pueblo in 2009.
Now, he had the chance to add the NFL to that long resume of his.
Days before Denver’s first exhibition game, however, Vaughn noticed some swelling in his right knee on the bus ride back from a practice at the team’s stadium.
“I didn’t think much of it,” Vaughn recalled. “Got in the ice tub, went and lifted. It swelled up again. So, I went and checked it out and they did the ACL test and no, the ACL’s fine.”
The next test was to see if the posterior cruciate ligament was OK. That one isn’t usually torn on the football field but in auto accidents when knees bash the dashboard. It’s usually accompanied by other torn ligaments, too.
“They did the PCL test and that was probably the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” Vaughn said. “It was terrible. They said, `You popped something.’ I did an MRI, yeah, tore it. Freak accident, man. Yeah, freak accident.”
It was one more detour on his quirky quest.
Vaughn, 26, had been cut so many times and the first time he made a team, the league went bankrupt. But this was by far the biggest bummer of them all.
“In all the adversity I’d faced, I’d never had an injury. I’d never been hurt. I’d never missed time,” he said. “And just sitting in the training room while everyone else was practicing, mentally that was just so tough for me.”
Here’s the thing about torn PCLs: when you’re not on your feet, they don’t hurt.
“So, you’re like, `You know what, I feel good, I could probably get out there.’ And then you take a step and you can’t,” Vaughn said. “But maybe I had gone through all that adversity to prepare me for this adversity. So I kept the faith.”
He was on IR for a couple of months, so he had some money coming in. In a respite from rehab, he would work the broadcasting booth on Saturday afternoons at his alma mater.
But his NFL dream didn’t die, and around New Year’s Day, he passed a physical and signed a futures contract with the Broncos, getting one more shot.
“I’m glad I was able to show then enough before it happened,” Vaughn said.
Then, Gary Kubiak replaced John Fox and suddenly Vaughn had a whole new coaching staff to impress. Oh well, he figured, everyone else does, too.
And besides, “that lights a fire under you,” he said.
In Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, Vaughn is back at his natural outside linebacker position rather than playing defensive end in the 4-3.
That’s nothing new, though, and his tenacity hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Phillips said Vaughn remains raw, “but he has very good footwork and you know it takes that to start with. You’d like him to be a little taller and a little bigger (he’s 6-foot-2 and 248 pounds), but good players come in all kinds of packages, so he’s got an opportunity.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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