Tom Vaughn was among the many backs who starred on the gridiron for Iowa State and head coach Clay Stapleton in the early 1960s. A native of Troy, Ohio, Vaughn was one of the Big Eight Conference’s last great two-way players, earning all-conference honors on both offense and defense.
ISU’s Iron Man broke out as a junior in 1963 after watching two-time All-American Dave Hoppmann lead the offense the season before. Vaughn averaged 4.2 yards per carry, rushed for 795 yards and scored nine touchdowns while leading ISU to a 4-5 mark. He also picked off two passes on defense while playing almost every minute of every game, which included handling most of the kickoff and punt return duties. Against VMI, Vaughn led the Cyclones to victory with an all-around performance after rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown, returning a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and intercepting one pass. Vaughn finished second in the Big Eight in rushing to Kansas’ Gale Sayers and ranked 11th nationally in yards gained on the ground with 795. Both Vaughn and Sayers were named first-team all-Big Eight running backs as well as All-Americans in 1963. In their head-to-head battle, Vaughn outrushed Sayers 138-81, as the Cyclones defeated the Jayhawks at Kansas 17-14. He also averaged 15.69 yards per punt return in 1963, a mark that still rates second in school history. With Vaughn’s All-America recognition from Football News, he became the fifth consecutive Cyclone back to earn All-America honors (Dwight Nichols, 1959; Tom Watkins, 1960; Dave Hoppmann, 1961, 1962).
Vaughn posted solid offensive numbers for a young and inexperienced team as a senior in 1964, rushing for 497 yards and scoring four touchdowns. Vaughn made his presence known on the defensive side of the ball, earning first-team all-Big Eight honors at safety. Vaughn picked off two passes to lead ISU and was the Big Eight’s top punt returner for the second consecutive year, averaging 12.0 yards per return. Vaughn earned academic all-Big Eight honors in 1964 and became just the second Cyclone gridder to earn academic All-America recognition. He ended his career as ISU’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (19), kickoff return yardage (25.36) and punt return yardage (13.83). His kickoff and punt return career marks still rank second in school history. His outstanding exploits in the 1964 season earned him invitations to the 1964 Hula Bowl and East-West Shrine game. He was named Iowa State’s Athlete of the Year in 1965.
After graduation, Vaughn continued his football career at the next level, getting drafted in the fifth round of the 1965 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. Vaughn enjoyed a successful seven-year career with the Lions, earning the starting position at strong safety in 1967. Along with Lem Barney, Dick LeBeau and Mike Weger, Vaughn would help form one of the NFL’s best pass defenses during the late 1960s. He still ranks in the Lions top-10 in both kickoff and punt returns and he intercepted nine passes in his career. In a poll published in 2003, he was voted as one of the top-100 players in Detroit Lions history.
Vaughn hung up his football cleats in 1972 and took a job in private business before getting back into football in 1974, where he was hired as an assistant coach with the Detroit Wheels of the World Football League. Vaughn returned to his alma mater in 1975, assisting Earle Bruce on the Iowa State staff until the 1977 season. As running backs coach, Vaughn helped mentor Cyclone All-American Dexter Green and was a part of back-to-back eight-win seasons in 1976 and 1977. In Vaughn’s final year as an assistant, the Cyclones played in the 1977 Peach Bowl.