What would also help Vaught is if the Patriots were to increase their passing game. Last year, Cumberland led the NAIA in rushing, but threw for only 636 yards all season while compiling an 8-2 record.
Of those 636 yards, 369 of them were on passes to Goodpaster, who caught 20 of the Patriots' 36 passes. He was the only player with more than five catches all season, and this year he'll be the Patriots' receiver coach.
Vaught caught just one ball for nine yards, but said he has higher expectations for the upcoming season. After spring practice, junior quarterback Larry Hay of Henderson County was slated to be the starter, but transfer Bo Bartik from West Georgia is a proven passer.
"I think we're getting a quarterback in who will be more capable of throwing it, and me and whoever else can show them we can catch it," Vaught said. "We'll have more than just one person out there catching it and I think we'll get to see the ball thrown a little more often.
"The bread and butter of our team will still be the running game. As a receiver, you just do what you have to do and look at the larger goal of making the playoffs and winning the national championship."
Sometimes, doing what he has to do means Vaught has to block for running backs. That doesn't bother him at all after spending his final two years at Danville as a tight end.
Vaught has added almost 30 pounds to his frame since high school and said he weighs in at 210 pounds now.
"Being able to block doesn't bother me, and I've never been one to shy away from contact," Vaught said. "Being a receiver, being able to block and mix it up is something I like a lot."
That willingness to make contact earned Vaught myriad opportunities on the special teams. He had 15 unassisted and five assisted tackles, good enough for the team lead in special teams tackles in 2003. He ranked 10th on the team overall in tackles.
"I knew that would be my chance to show what I could do," Vaught, a backup strong safety his first year at Cumberland before moving to receiver, said. "As the season progressed, my playing time at receiver went up, in large part due to the fact that I hustled on special teams and that helped me get noticed that much more."
Now that his role in the offense could be larger, Vaught doesn't know how much he'll play in other aspects of the game. But he said he would like to continue to play special teams to help the team try to earn a playoff berth.
Vaught said the combination of new players and returning experience makes the Patriots a dangerous team. With a hopefully more balanced offense and a still-strong defense, Vaught is expecting a run to the playoffs.
"Anyone that can lead the nation in rushing always has a chance," Vaught said. "Once you get there, having teams that have not been able to see you every year running the option will help us. If we get there, we can really do some damage in the playoffs."
Vaught has made several close friends on the team, but his closest is ex-Danville teammate and roommate Ben White. White is a two-year starter at linebacker for the Patriots, and Vaught said having someone around who has known him for years gives him an ear to bend when he feels the need to.
"I can ask him what the defense is going to do, and he'll ask me how the offense is, and we'll just sit there and talk about what's going on," Vaught said. "When the offense is out there, he'll encourage me or he'll jump me if I drop a ball and he knows I'll do the same thing to him if he misses a tackle. We just have that relationship where neither one of us gets mad at the other.
"When I've been frustrated or he's been frustrated, it's a lot easier to talk to someone you've known and played with, because we trust each other."|None|***