Ex-junior college running backs Courtney Vaughn and Justin Sturns almost became opponents in the Lone Star Conference. Instead, they will be teammates.
Vaughn and Sturns are both in training camp at Tarleton State, where they are competing with returning regular Evan Robertson for the starting job.
The two say they had never met before arriving in Stephenville last week, but if you saw them together now, you'd believe they were old friends.
"That's just how it is when you're around good people. You click together," said Sturns, who is coming off a two-year layoff since last playing at Navarro College in Corsicana.
Vaughn, who comes to Tarleton from Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Miss., says he'll fight to the end to win the starting nod, but regardless who takes the field first against Abilene Christian on Sept. 1, he'll always support his new teammates.
"That's just how it should be with teammates, and that's how it is here," Vaughn said. "We're one big family out here working together."
Second-year Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler, who recruited Vaughn himself after an assistant coach saw him play, envisions Robertson and the transfers developing into a solid backfield combo.
"I don't know who will come out of that mix on top, but I know this, we're going to have a good back in there all the time with those three around," said Fowler. "We'll have sets where one or two of them might be out there, and you may even see all three of them on the field together in some instances."
Vaughn, who almost went to West Texas A&M, was a late arrival at Tarleton's camp. He'll put on full pads for the first time today.
"Everything's good with him, he just can't pad up until after the acclimation period," said Fowler. "It will be fun to see what he can do when we get him suited out."
Sturns averaged 5.7 yards per rush and 18.5 per reception at Navarro in 2008. He planned to go from there to Abilene Christian, but couldn't get all his credits to transfer.
"They say people have a way of ending up where they're supposed to be," Sturns said. "I definitely believe I'm supposed to be here."
Sturns rushed for more than 2,500 yards as a junior quarterback at Rusk High School in east Texas, but was always recruited as a running back. He was ranked No. 23 in the nation among running backs in the class of 2007 by Scout.com, while Rivals.com had him ranked No. 24.
"His talent goes without question," Fowler said of Sturns. "He's just still knocking the dust off from not playing the last two years."
Both players know unseating Robertson is a tough task.
"We know trying to beat him won't be easy," Sturns said. "He's been all-conference before, and he's out here working hard."
"Everyone wants to be a starter," Vaughn replied. "But in the end it doesn't really matter. Whoever's out there, the other two will be on the sideline cheering him on and getting ready for their turn."
Sturns agreed, saying he believes the three backs will complement each other. Fowler certainly hopes that proves true.
"We're going to need all of them," Fowler said. "This is a tough, physical conference. You can't plan on going through this league with one running back, and you really can't plan on having just two. You need fresh legs to survive."
"They're great teammates," Fowler added regarding Vaughn and Sturns. "They are buying into what we preach here in terms of family and togetherness. I have no question those two would go to war for each other."
Vaughn echoes his new coach's statement.
"It's all about that bond, that family," he said. "We're stronger together than we are apart."