Considering he’s probably the fastest student at Carroll County High School, it’s a bit ironic that junior Brennan Vaught is better known as “Pokey.”
As a running back and returner, Vaught is virtually impossible to catch once he gets into the open field and has a chance to turn on the jets. And while he may be small at 5-3, Vaught uses his superb quickness to his advantage on the wrestling mat, where he was just one match from qualifying for the state tournament a year ago as a sophomore. So just how did the quick-as-lighting Cavalier end up with the nickname Pokey?
“When I was a little kid and started walking I was amazed by the world. I would take a step and take my time to look at everything around me,” Vaught said. “I would take another step and it would take me about 10 minutes to get through the parking lot. Mom would always be ahead of me and say, ‘C’mon Pokey.’ It just kind of stuck.”
Nickname aside, ‘Pokey’ combines a deceptive strength for his size to go along with his obvious speed. Those traits are two of the main reasons Vaught has been so successful in the sport of wrestling. As a junior, Vaught currently sports a 23-7 record, including a championship in the Knights of the Round Table Tournament at Cave Spring, a third-place finish in the Agie Skeens Memorial Tournament at Grundy, and a seventh-place showing in the prestigious Big Blue Invitational at Christiansburg.
“His quickness definitely plays a big role in his success. He’s not the strongest person on the football field, but he also only weighs 120 pounds,” Carroll wrestling coach Matthew Tompkins said. “He is not overmatched often in strength and speed. I’m very hopeful he will be able to make it to the state tournament this year and not be just satisfied to get there.”
Tompkins said Pokey is strong for his 120-pound weight class. Because Carroll doesn’t have a 126-pounder on the team, Vaught has moved up in class several times this year.
“It is rare he is overmatched in strength. Since we don’t have a 126-pounder and a lot of teams don’t have a 120-pounder, we do sometimes bump him up to 126 because the goal is to get the kids as many matches as possible,” Tompkins said. “He is one of our captains. His ultimate goal is to be a champion and he definitely leads that way with a championship attitude.”
A fierce competitor, Vaught said he doesn’t have a preference on whom or in what weight class he wrestles. The main thing is to just keep getting work and continuing to improve.
“As long as I get to wrestle, to me it honestly don’t matter,” Vaught said of wrestling at 120 or 126 pounds. “As a competitor I just like to wrestle.”
As a captain, Vaught leads both by example and vocally. But perhaps the biggest trait he tries to pass on is that championship attitude Tompkins spoke about.
“His ability to hate losing more than he likes winning is the biggest thing. That is what we try to instill with a lot of them this year,” Tompkins said. “He took right to it and really instilled it with his work ethic and effort in practice every day. He does everything he can to make himself better, which makes everybody in room pull together, too. You couldn’t ask for a better kid to have in the locker room or weight room. He makes everybody better.”
Aside from balancing success in three varsity sports – he also plays tennis – Vaught is anything but Pokey in the classroom. The junior currently holds a 4.49 GPA. While he is unsure of where and what he wants to study in college, he said he works hard on his studies “to make sure I have the best opportunity when the time comes.”
That same mentality has helped Vaught succeed on the mat. Getting his start in wrestling at the age of five, he fell in love with the sport the first time his mother took him to the wrestling room with his uncle Chris Felts, a former wrestler.
“Getting to state has been a goal for as long as I can remember, since I started,” Vaught said. “(Being a captain) is also a motivating factor. They choose captains based on what they see in practice and matches. It’s an honor and it pushes you to be better than people think you are. It does give you a lot of pressure with everybody looking up to you, but you get used to it.”
This past fall, Vaught earned second-team All-Conference 24 honors as a running back after rushing for 300 yards and a touchdown and catching eight receptions out of the backfield for 136 yards and another touchdown. Despite that success, he said he probably would choose wrestling if he had to pick one sport.
“I really enjoy that one-on-one aspect,” Vaught said. “If you win, it’s on you, and if you lose, it’s all on you. It is all or nothing and I like that competitive nature.”
Vaught’s brother Caxton is also a standout wrestler for Carroll County. A 132-pound freshman, Caxton has enjoyed much success in his first varsity season on the mat for the Cavaliers. The sibling rivalry between the two helps push both to be better on the mat.
“Honestly we are pretty even. I win some and he will win some,” Pokey said of when the two wrestled it out. “It just kind of depends on who is madder. We know it makes each other mad, so we push each other’s buttons and it usually turns into an all-out brawl.”
The two have another sibling, Riley, who is currently in the fifth grade. And while Riley is not wrestling yet, Pokey hopes he eventually will come around. It’s something Tompkins probably wouldn’t mind either.
“I would like to have 10 of him,” the Carroll coach said of Pokey, “but I am tickled to have one.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]