Byron Vaughns is hard to miss.
Even on a field with 21 other players, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Utah State defensive end stands out, both for his tendency to find a way into the opposition’s backfield as well as for his revelry after a play.
Ask any Aggies defender and they’ll tell you, Vaughns is one of Utah State’s emotional leaders, and Thursday night his antics drew the ire of the 50,000-plus fans, to say nothing for the masses on social media.
Vaughns was flagged for a late hit on BYU quarterback Jaren Hall in the third quarter of the Aggies’ 38-26 loss to the Cougars in Provo. Utah State was assessed a 15-yard penalty and Hall played the rest of the game, but if the subsequent boos were any indication, BYU fans thought it was a dirty play by Vaughns.
Even select Aggie fans took umbrage with how Vaughns responded to the cacophony of boos that echoed throughout LaVell Edwards Stadium afterward, as he threw his arms up in the air repeatedly, egging Cougar fans on.
The thing is, Vaughns likes being the villain. It is a role he relishes in, as he did during the Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel.
“I do enjoy being a villain,” Vaughns said. “When I hit the quarterback (Hall), I didn’t think it was dirty. I’m never trying to hurt anybody and I hope nobody tries to hurt me.
“Football is game, we have lives to live, but after I hit the quarterback I heard the fans and thought ‘OK, I like being booed.’”
A Texas native, Vaughns admittedly doesn’t have a real stake in the rivalry between BYU and Utah State. Many of his teammates do, though, so Vaughns was obliged to participate.
“I don’t really understand the rivalry, but I know my teammates hate BYU and I am going to ride with them so I hate BYU,” he said.
Vaughns is inarguably one of Utah State’s best defenders. He finished with five tackles and two quarterback hurries Thursday in his return from a high ankle sprain that kept him out of Utah State’s loss to UNLV.
He is one of the reasons Utah State is one of the best teams in the country in recording tackles for loss (entering Thursday, the Aggies were tied for No. 7 in TFLs among FBS programs, averaging 8.8 per game).
And he only wants the Aggies to get better on that front.
“We need to be more physical,” Vaughns said. “Instead of coming down and trying to set the edge we need to run through a grown man’s face. In front of his wife and kids that are at the game and stand over him after we do it.
“That is how I feel we should do. A tight end should never be able to block a defensive end. If a tight end lines up in front of me, I hope his wife and kids are in the stands.”
Vaughns’ passion is a boon for the Aggies, even if he does nothing to endear himself to opponents or their fans going forward.
“There is a chippy-ness to me,” he said.
The Aggies will tell you they are better off for it.