John Vaughn's heart beat a little faster. He wasn't on the field at Commonwealth Stadium, but he knew what it was like to be there. Silently, he pulled hard for his friend, Wes Byrum.
Wes Byrum celebrates game-winner/Todd Van Emst photo
When Byrum's kick from 24 yards sailed straight and true through the uprights, giving Auburn a 37-34 victory over Kentucky, Vaughn celebrated. It didn't matter that Byrum had kicked his 51st field goal, breaking the record Vaughn set from 2003-2006.
"I’m really glad he broke it," Vaughn said. "We needed that win."
Vaughn faced a similar situation in November 2005. Auburn trailed Georgia 30-28 in Athens with eight seconds left. Vaughn was called on to kick a 20--yard field that would give Auburn a memorable victory. He kicked it through and Auburn won 31-30.
"That’s what you prepare for," said Vaughn, a pharmaceutical salesman who recently moved from Auburn to Birmingham. "That’s what you dream of. You are prepared mentally to go through it, but there is no such thing as an easy game-winning field goal. There's the snap, hold, defense coming out you that knows if they block it they win. No matter where it is, it’s a tough kick. It’s something you practice for all the time. Sometimes there more pressure on the short ones. You are expected to make the short ones. I thought he did a great job."
There is a special connection between Vaughn and Byrum. Vaughn was Auburn's kicker for four years. He had mostly highs, but there were some lows. In 2005, there were five missed field goal tries in the swirling at Tiger Stadium when Auburn lost 20-17 in overtime. Though he finished the season making 7 of his last 9, he finished 12-for-20, his worst Auburn season. He responded with by having one of the top kicking seasons in Auburn history as a senior, going 20-of-24.
Byrum became a hero early, kicking a 43-yard field goal to beat Florida in the Swamp in 2007. His year struggle was 2008, but he rebounded with a spectacular junior season. Halfway through his senior season, he is one of the nation's top kickers.
The two became friends when they met on Byrum's official visit, and they've been friends ever since. They talk frequently. They have kicked together in every offseason. They share ideas.
"Probably all four years I’ve been here we’ve gone out and kicked together a good bit," Byrum said. "In the offseason, we’ll go out and just kick the ball around a lot. We kind of bounce ideas off each other. It’s good, because we are kind of different styles. He does a couple of things differently than I do. He watches the games. He’ll shoot me a text and say hey, man, you are bending over a little bit. Just friendly tips and stuff like that."
On Saturday night, it was just Vaughn, holder Neil Caudle, snapper Josh Harris. They all had to do their jobs for Auburn to go 6-0.
"Those kind really should be routine," Byrum said. "You practice it all the time. You just go do your job."
Byrum did, and because he did, the Tigers are 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference and ranked No. 7 in the nation. They'll try to climb even higher Saturday when No. 12 Arkansas (4-1, 1-1) visits Jordan-Hare Stadium.