Ex-Chargers standout Vaughn saves his best for last

Ex-Chargers standout Vaughn saves his best for last

Luke Vaughn has been a popular guy since last Friday night. And for good reason.

"I keep getting phone calls and texts," the former Centennial athlete said Wednesday. "I'll probably be getting them more once it's in the paper."

Vaughn is referring to his victory in the discus at last week's NCAA men's track and field championships, which he earned with a toss of 198 feet, 2 inches for the University of Memphis.

The lengthy throw actually wasn't his career best, as Vaughn let loose a 204-foot effort in April. But in rainy conditions at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field, the Memphis graduate student still managed to pace the field.

"It feels great. I can't really put many more words into it," Vaughn said. "I came in No. 3 in the NCAA, a foot from No. 1. I had the mindset of winning it going in."

Vaughn said he wasn't comfortable with his hold on first place until all of his competitors finished throwing. He had good reason to feel that way, based on recent history.

The ex-Charger's toss was the shortest to take down a national championship since 2010.

Vaughn realized coming into the meet that winning "usually takes about a 61, 62 (meter throw) in good years."

But he was not about to let that statistic dampen his mood.

"I still don't think it's hit me," Vaughn said with a laugh. "I feel relieved that I can check it off the list."

Vaughn's best discus showing at the Class 2A state high school championships was fourth in his senior season of 2013. Though he didn't top a podium at Eastern Illinois' O'Brien Field, Vaughn feels his time at Centennial has proved invaluable in his journey to becoming an NCAA titlist.

"Something I learned from Centennial, probably just that I enjoy track," he said. "It seems simple, but I really (found out I) like it and wanted to pursue it even further."

Plenty has changed for Vaughn since he donned the Columbia blue, navy and white — most notably the power he puts into his discus throws. Vaughn's fourth-place distance back in 2013 was 170-9, a far cry from last Friday's 198-2.

But not everything is different in college. Vaughn still learns plenty from father Tony, who was Luke's throws coach as a prep star.

"He's always there to say, 'Stop being lazy. Train harder,'" Vaughn said. "I don't want to make it seem like it's bad. It's good. A lot of times, I need it."

Vaughn has felt plenty happy for himself since his triumph, but one could argue he's experiencing even more joy for Memphis head coach and throws director Kevin Robinson.

"I think it's awesome for my coach because he busts his (butt) and puts in more work than pretty much any coach in the NCAA," Vaughn said.

So where does Vaughn go from here? He still has one more meet in his Tigers uniform, the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships starting June 21 in Des Moines, Iowa.

No matter what's next for Vaughn after that event, chances are last week's performance opened some doors for him to continue throwing at a high level.

"I'm sitting at like No. 8 in the U.S. right now, only a foot out of third," Vaughn said. "But one more meet, and then after that I'm going to continue to train a bit and see how it goes."