College Sports

Kyle DeVaughn is stable presence for struggling UC Davis

UC Davis defensive lineman Kyle DeVaughn was so dominant at Bishop Alemany High School in Southern California that he was named the league’s MVP as a senior.

That’s almost unheard of for a lineman.

Such awards usually go to a skill player, as happened the previous season when DeVaughn’s teammate Vernon Adams Jr., now the starting quarterback at Oregon, was named the Serra League MVP. DeVaughn landed defensive MVP honors that season.

Despite those accolades, college recruiters were lukewarm on DeVaughn.

“We had great players on our team in the league, but I was on the short end of the stick,” says the 5-foot-11, 285-pound DeVaughn. “My height was the issue. Recruiters would say, ‘You are a little too short for us.’ That was a pretty tough time. I was pretty down.”

Then UCD coach Bob Biggs offered a scholarship, the only Division I deal DeVaughn received. The arrangement has worked out well for both parties.

The senior has enjoyed a stellar, though unsung, four-year career with the Aggies (1-9, 1-6 Big Sky Conference), one that concludes Saturday in the 62nd annual Causeway Classic at Sacramento State (2-8, 1-6).

“I can’t believe how fast it has gone by,” said DeVaughn, who will play in his 44th game and make his 34th start. “I’m so grateful for how things worked out. I can remember my first day of practice here with coach Biggs. Now I’m a senior and just spent my last day coaching up the younger guys. We’re hoping to have a good game this Saturday. I want to go out with a bang.”

It’s been a tough season for the Aggies. They have just one win and, like last season, have been ravaged by injuries. A loss Saturday would be UCD’s 10th, the most in team history.

So the Aggies could use a performance like the one DeVaughn had Oct. 10 when the Aggies upset Northern Arizona 38-24 at Aggie Stadium. DeVaughn had two sacks and recovered a fumble against the Lumberjacks, now 7-3 and ranked No. 24.

“That was a game where everything clicked for us,” DeVaughn said. “I played well; a lot of guys played well.”

DeVaughn and defensive line mates Walter Earnest, Inoke Raikadroka and Zak Pettit have been steady performers on a defense that otherwise has been in flux. Along with key reserve Brandon Weaver, they rank as five of the Aggies’ top 11 tacklers.

DeVaughn leads the way. He ranks sixth on the team with 34 tackles, including a team-best 4.5 for losses. He also leads the team with four sacks and is tied for the team lead with one blocked kick.

“Kyle DeVaughn is the glue that holds that crew together,” said UC Davis coach Ron Gould. “What people don’t see is that Kyle often is holding two guys up, so that our linebackers and safeties can come in and make tackles. He epitomizes the unsung hero, the guy who goes unnoticed.”

Gould said that if DeVaughn were 6-2, he’d probably be in the Pacific-12 Conference. But in addition to missing DeVaughn’s passion, fortitude and work ethic, recruiters failed to notice something else.

“He has the wingspan of a 6-4 guy in the body of someone who is 5-11,” Gould said. “He has a huge wingspan, so he can extend and get off blocks. He can separate and then accelerate to the quarterback.”

While the line has been consistent, finding healthy linebackers and secondary players has been a different matter. The Aggies became so thin at those positions in last Saturday’s 55-38 loss to visiting Cal Poly that Gould moved wide receiver Luke Williams to cornerback and safety Zach Jones to linebacker.

The cascade of injuries is surprising since Gould instituted new forms of conditioning and training while emphasizing concussion care and improved nutrition during spring and summer workouts.

“For the first time since I’ve been here,” DeVaughn said, “we came into the fall without a single hurt player, then during the first game we lost a couple of guys, and it’s just snowballed.”

With UCD winning just two games last season and facing a possible one-win campaign this year, Gould is under fire in his third year of a five-year contract. DeVaughn said the criticism is unfair, though understandable.

“There are a lot of people pointing fingers at him,” DeVaughn said. “I feel he’s doing the job and has made some good changes in the program. More of the blame is on us as players. We haven’t taken advantage of what he has given us.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP