UCLA two-sport athlete JonJon Vaughns works at his 'first love' on the diamond

JonJon Vaughns stood behind his UCLA baseball teammates, who were perched along the dugout fence, watching those ahead of him in the batting order.

It was an early-season Pac-12 game against Arizona and the 21-year-old junior — a two-sport athlete who also plays on the Bruins football team — got into his batting stance. As the Wildcats pitcher threw, Vaughns mimed his swing. It was a routine he repeated through the game when he was not in the batter’s box himself.

“JonJon is a very consistent, competitive guy,” UCLA baseball coach John Savage said. “It's just his competitive nature. He's gonna fight you. I think it’s a kind of football mentality.”

That mentality is also seen in the batter’s box as he stares down pitchers, unafraid. It made for a productive early part of the season as he hit a team-high five home runs in March and remains tied for second on the team with nine. For the season, Vaughns has 28 RBIs and an .813 OPS while starting 39 of the 42 games he’s appeared in for the Bruins (26-21-1, 11-14-1 Pac-12) in right field. He has settled in after starting 17 games as a freshman in 2021 and 33 games, including 28 in right field, last season.

“I just be out there having fun with the guys,” Vaughns said of his baseball experience. “I'm just trying to help the team win and just have fun with it. Pretty much, that's all I do.”

This comes on the heels of a football season in which Vaughns, as a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker, played in all 13 games, starting the last 11, for a Bruins team that went 9-4 and reached a bowl game for the first time since 2017.

UCLA linebacker JonJon Vaughns (21) celebrates with UCLA defensive back John Humphrey.
UCLA linebacker JonJon Vaughns (21) celebrates with defensive back John Humphrey (6) after intercepting the ball against South Alabama last season. Vaughns played in all 13 games for the Bruins, starting the last 11. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Vaughns also has an extra, not-so-hidden talent: The multisport athlete is a pitcher. It was a skill he finally unleashed May 9, when he pitched a scoreless seventh inning in the Bruins' 10-2 home win over Cal State Fullerton. The win ended a five-game losing streak for UCLA, which is trying to right itself and be in position to qualify for the Pac-12 tournament, which begins May 23 (the top nine teams in the conference qualify, and the Bruins sit in seventh place).

In his collegiate pitching debut, Vaughns threw 20 pitches and walked one batter as one of six pitchers who combined on a three-hitter for the Bruins.

“I think he’s 93 to 95 on the mound,” Savage said earlier this season. “We put him on the mound, I’m telling you, he’s gonna show a solid major league fastball.”

Major League Baseball. That’s where Vaughns wants his future to be.

“I love it more. It’s my first love,” Vaughns said. “I want to chase my dreams.”

Vaughns grew up in a baseball-first family. His dad, Geoffrey, was a catcher at Long Beach State, and taught JonJon and his three older brothers how to play, though two of his brothers, Tyler and Aaren, went on to play professional football (Tyler for the Indianapolis Colts and now in the XFL; Aaren, in the CFL).

JonJon Vaughns attended St. John Bosco High, where he played both sports and was heavily recruited. He was rated the 37th-best high school baseball prospect in California and a four-star football recruit.

In 2018 and 2019, he played in the Area Code Games, a baseball showcase for the top high school players in the country, attended by college coaches and MLB scouts.

Geoffrey remembered the Dodgers and Angels being among the scouts watching JonJon, who wound up going undrafted in 2020.

For Vaughns, it doesn’t much matter which MLB team drafts him, as long as he is picked. Though, if he could choose, perhaps it’d be for his favorite team, the New York Yankees — the team one of his favorite players famously captained, Derek Jeter.

Or for the Dodgers, games of which he fondly remembers watching with his grandfather.

“He loved the Dodgers,” Vaughns said. “He was from Brooklyn.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.