Q&A With Utah State Defensive End Byron Vaughns

LOGAN, Utah – Byron Vaughns is doing his best to make the world a more loving place – one hug at a time.

Utah State’s 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior defensive end started a new tradition earlier this season where he would give out eight hugs a day to random people. The one caveat, though, is the recipient of a hug by Vaughns has to be a man.

During the first quarter of Utah State’s 51-31 home win over Hawai’i on Oct. 30, Vaughns even sidled up to the back judge and gave him a hug. The television announcers described it as a “chummy connection.”

On Twitter, Vaughns wrote this of the gesture: “As a growing young man, I see how just a simple hug to another man can be the best part of their day. Men also need hugs.”

The native of Fort Worth, Texas, is in his first season at Utah State after transferring from Texas, where he spent three years. Vaughns redshirted in 2018, appeared in 10 games in 2019 and did not play during the 2020 campaign. In the only season he played in, he finished with 14 tackles.

Vaughns has played in all nine games for the Aggies this season, recording 23 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, and four pass breakups, which is tied for first on the team.

We caught up with Vaughns to discuss how much fun he is having this season, his goal to give out eight hugs a day and why he thinks a cat would be the rudest if animals could talk.

USU: How much fun are you having this season?

Vaughns: I’m having a lot of fun this season. As far as the team goes, we are winning and having fun, and then for the coaches bringing us together. This team is a lot of fun – probably the most fun I’ve had in college football, other than the cold.

USU: Are you still not used to the cold weather here in Utah?

Vaughns: Not at all. I got out here last January and they told me this was light snow. I said, ‘No, it’s snow. There is no such thing as light snow.’

USU: Had you seen snow before you got out here?

Vaughns: Coach Ethan Morriss Facetimed me and he was like, ‘Look at this snow out here,’ and I was like, ‘Snow?’ Once I got here in January, I spent a little time in it at the beginning of the month, and I thought that one inch was terrible.

USU: What was it about Utah State that made you want to leave Texas and join the Aggies?

Vaughns: Coach (Blake) Anderson brought me out here and when I looked up Logan, Utah, and saw the mountains, which I had never seen before, I wanted to get away from home. I trusted coach Anderson when he said he was changing this program around. I took a chance with coach Anderson and it was a great chance I took.

USU: Did you imagine the program being flipped so fast?

Vaughns: I did. Before I got here, I looked at Utah State YouTube highlights versus other teams, and the dog mentality was here with the team, it was just something they were missing. The new coach Anderson brought that energy, and the joy of playing for him.

USU: What has coach Anderson done to help mesh everyone together so quickly and change the culture?

Vaughns: When we first got here in January, he put us in situation where I needed to trust my teammate in order to get through whatever drill, or whatever workout we were doing. He made us work outside in the cold and the snow, and if my teammate messed up, we all started over. Having team events where we had to rely on each other was something that definitely brought us together as a team and a staff as a family.

USU: When did you make it a goal to play college football?

Vaughns: When I was young and saw Tavon Austin and De’Anthony Thomas play, I knew I wanted to play college football, but I never thought I would be a defensive end. 

USU: What position did you play in high school?

Vaughns: In high school, I played defensive end or outside linebacker. They also let me play receiver, because I was athletic enough, but I couldn’t make it collegiately at receiver.

USU: How much fun did you have in the game against Hawai’i, where you spent a lot of time in the backfield? 

Vaughns: Coming into that game, I was at a different level of intensity because we wanted to go bowling. Hawai’i is a great team and they had momentum coming in, but I just had a lot of fun. If you watch the game film, we started the game on kickoff and AJ (Ajani) Carter is the one that started my juice. He was out there dancing and jumping around and I was like, ‘I feel the juice from AJ, now let me pass it to somebody else.’ He started the juice on kickoff and really lifted me up and probably doesn’t even know it.'”

USU: The picture of you hugging the ref during the game has garnered a lot of traction. What was going through your mind at that point in the game?

Vaughns: Coming from where I come from, men don’t really hug other men, comfort other men and tell them it’s going to be okay. I started doing this thing at practice – or throughout the day – where I just give eight hugs a day to other men, because that one hug could impact anybody’s day. When I say a hug, it’s not a side church hug – the ref just happened to get one of those – it’s chest-to-chest with a good squeeze, like I am here for you no matter what. Whatever you are going through, you’ll be okay. I just feel the small impact of a hug really can change anybody’s day and the ref just happened to be one of my eight that day. I’m happy one of the refs took in one of my hugs.

USU: What would you say is the best part about Utah State?

Vaughns: That is a hard question, but I am going to say Logan and the beauty of it.

USU: Outside of football, what do you enjoy doing?

Vaughns: I am going to give a shout-out to my girlfriend, Maddie Straker. We spend a lot of time together. If you see me with a lot of tattoos before these next few games, just know, that is 100 percent her. We cook together, she does my tattoos, I gave her a few tattoos; we just spend a lot of time together. She used to be a gymnast.

USU: What do you want to do after your football career is over?

Vaughns: I definitely want to be an entrepreneur and own multiple businesses. I have my own brand right now and it’s called DAWG, which stands for Do All With God. I want to take my brand and try to run with it as much as I can. I also want to be a strength coach or a personal trainer, and have my own gym. I have a few things in mind, it’s just what I want to settle down and focus on once I graduate, but I know I want to be an entrepreneur for sure.

USU: How would you survive a zombie apocalypse?

Vaughns: I’m going to go to the nearest truck dealership, grab as many keys as I can for trucks, I’m going to stay in Logan, so hopefully, not a lot of zombies come to Logan. I’ll probably drive a new truck every month, and come to the nutrition center up here because they have the best snacks and best food, and they are for free. I would just focus on running until everybody else killed the zombies, and then see what I have to do to survive.

USU: If you could scale any animal to the size of a horse, what would it be?

Vaughns: A dog.

USU: If animals could talk, which one would be the rudest?

Vaughns: I’m going to say a cat, because cats are already rude as it is when they punch people. There is just something about cats I don’t trust.

USU: Do cats have any regrets?

Vaughns: Not at all. They do what they want to do and they don’t care what anybody else thinks. They are always happy with their decisions.

USU: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Vaughns: Let your life flow like water.

USU: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Vaughns: Just being able to see the age of 21 and go to college for free.

USU: What is your pre-game ritual?

Vaughns: My pre-game ritual is I walk around a lot, eat a lot of Welch’s fruit snacks, or whatever fruit snacks we have, and just talk to myself. I know that probably sounds a little crazy, but I feel like all geniuses talk to themselves in some way, form or fashion.

USU: What was your favorite toy growing up?

Vaughns: I used to have a bow-and-arrow, like a Nerf gun, and I used to shoot my cousin with it all the time and run.

USU: If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be with?

Vaughns: I’m not going to lie, I’m just going to keep it simple, Beyonce or Rihanna. That’s hard right there. I think I would be cheesing the whole dinner and wouldn’t even eat. I’m going to have to say Beyonce.

USU: Does pineapple belong on pizza?

Vaughns: Yes, it does. I had to think about it, but the situation I am in right now, I need to gain weight, so every calorie helps.

USU: Why does a round pizza come in a square box?

Vaughns: Because if you put a square pizza in a square box and the crust is too thick, you might not be able to get the pizza out of the box as easily.

For Aggie football ticket information, fans can contact the USU Athletics Ticket Office over the phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or 435-797-0305 during regular hours of operation. Fans can also buy their tickets in person at the USU Ticket Office inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum or online by clicking on the “Buy Tickets” tab at www.UtahStateAggies.com.

For more information on the Utah State football program, follow the Aggies on Twitter at @USUFootball, on Facebook at USUFootball and on Instagram at USUFootball.

-USU-

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