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COVID-19 ended what J.P. Vaught hoped was going to be All-American season

J.P. Vaught, right, thought he would earn All-America honors before COVID-19 ended his first track season at Centre College. (Centre College Athletics Photo)

Vaught’s note: While we have all seen plenty of stories about the impact of COVID-19 on Division I athletes, those at Division III — who compete with no athletic scholarships — were dramatically impacted also. This is the first of two stories about Centre College freshmen who had their first outdoor collegiate season wiped out and both had big hopes for winning national titles. And for those who might wonder, J.P. Vaught is not related to me in any way.

By LARRY VAUGHT

He was expecting to be an All-American at the least and Centre College track coach Lisa Owens was sure freshman J.P. Vaught would have re-written all the school sprint records during the spring season before it was cancelled by COVID-19.

Vaught, a track standout at Southwestern High School, broke the indoor school records in both the 60-meter (6.89 seconds) and 200-meter (22.11) dashes and was at the Division III Indoor National Championships — he was only the second Centre freshman ever to qualify for this event — when the meet was cancelled.

“I don’t think I realized what was really happening and then came the realization I would not be running,” Vaught said. “I was honestly anticipating being in the top five in the 60 and top 3 in the 200 and being an All-American in both. I was really upset at first but then I realized I got there once and could do it again.

“I also thought we still at least had the outdoor season, then news dropped on that being cancelled, too. That got me upset, so I just tried to enjoy the opportunities I had and time with teammates before we got sent home (when Centre went to all online classes).”

He’s been back in Somerset for about two months finishing his freshman year academic work. Since he also played football at Centre like he had in high school, he had not had a real break from athletics this year.

“I have just relaxed, let myself heal up and done some fun stuff,” he said. “I plan to start training again soon.”

However, he won’t play football next season, something he’s been doing since he was in first grade. He started running track when he was an eighth-grader to have something to do when he wasn’t playing football. One reason he came to Centre was to have a chance to participate in both track and football.

“Honestly, coming out of high school I did not have a lot of athletic options. I knew the education I wanted. I had a chance to go to Dartmouth but I didn’t want to be in that cold weather,” he said. “I really liked the football coaches at Centre and the chance to do both sports kind of intrigued him. But it’s hard to do both sports at Centre and keep up academically.”

He was Class AAA state champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes as a sophomore at Southwestern, second in the 200 as a junior, and second in the 400 as a senior.

“I had planned on getting the outdoor 200 record at our first outdoor meet and figured I would get the 100 down the road or even next season. I also think I can get the 400 (record),” he said.

What made missing this year even more disappointing for Vaught is that he felt Centre had a “really good team” capable of doing well at the national championships.

“We had competitive athletes in every event,” the freshman said. “We had good jumpers. Our cross country team had really good distance runners. We had another really good sprinter. It’s hard not to think about what might have been but hopefully I think there is a pretty good chance next year we could be almost as good.”

Vaught has missed being on campus where he could attend class and participate with students and professors.

“Online is just different and virtual learning is not the same but give Centre credit for doing a really good job working things out for us to make it as good as possible,” he said.
Soon he hopes to have a summer job to not only make money but also to keep him busy with no class work.

“When I get enough of the work, then I will go back to training and try to go into fall in as good of shape as I can and just hope I can really have a really good indoor season,” he said. “But I admit I will probably think about what could have been this year for a little while longer.”

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