The football field is a refuge for Battlehawks’ safety Qwynnterrio Cole. The Dome at America’s Center will be his sanctuary this Saturday when St. Louis (2-1) hosts the Memphis Showboats (1-2) in Week 4 UFL action.

The game will be especially meaningful for Cole – a Memphis native – because Cassius Vaughn, the man, coach, and mentor that he calls “Godpops” is making the trip up Interstate 55.

Cole led the Seattle SeaDragons defense with 48 tackles and three interceptions in 2023 and St. Louis selected him in the UFL Dispersal Draft in January. He made a team-high nine tackles in the Battlehawks’ Week 2 win over Arlington at The Dome.

“Q has been great, man. He’s one of the leaders back there for us…our enforcer back there when he’s tackling properly. Just another leader for us,” said defensive coordinator Donnie Abraham.

UFL executives love to highlight “Player 54” – the next man up on an NFL 53-man roster – and Cole’s story fits the narrative.

A two-time HBCU All-American at Alcorn State that missed an entire calendar year of football when the Braves did not compete in 2020 due to the pandemic, Cole transferred to Louisville and was second on the team with 87 tackles in 2021. He appeared in two preseason games with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022 and has dominated spring football ever since.

Ask Cole to tell his tale, and he quickly pivots to Vaughn, his co-author.

“I lost my father at a young age,” Cole said. “And, I mean, just trying to fill that void – I just poured all my pain into football, honestly.”

“He taught me the ropes, helped me grow myself into the man I am today,” he said. “He taught me a lot about the game, the way you’re supposed to carry yourself as an athlete (and) as an overall man.”

Qwynnterrio was a ninth grader at Memphis East High School that wanted to “eat, sleep, and breathe” football when he first caught Vaughn’s eye. The year was 2013 and by that time, Vaughn had already beaten the odds himself.

An undrafted defensive back from Ole Miss, Vaughn played two seasons with the Denver Broncos before he signed with Indianapolis and started regularly for the Colts’ during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Whenever Vaughn could, he went home to Memphis East to visit the football team.

Vaughn saw the freshman wreaking havoc on the field and a mentorship was born. For the next two years, Cole terrorized Memphis East’s opponents while Vaughn continued his NFL career. Qwynnterrio was studious and he built a reputation for violence as a versatile, aggressive, hard-hitting tackler.

It didn’t take long for Vaughn’s support to extend beyond football.

“As the years went on, I ended up (having) a relationship with his mom where she trusted me enough to let me put (Cole) under my wing, he and his brother,” Vaughn said. “Come stay with me and be in my family and like, (I will) groom him as a young man, as a person, as an athlete.”

As Cole’s senior year approached in the autumn of 2016, Vaughn had played 69 games over six NFL seasons, but he’d reached the end of that road. In a lesson that Qwynnterrio took to heart, Vaughn refused to walk away from the game. He spent the next three years playing in the Canadian Football League and won Grey Cup in 2017 with Toronto.

Meanwhile, Cole was defensive captain for the Class 4A Tennessee state champions as Memphis East beat Knox Central 27-3 with Qwynnterrio notching seven tackles and 50 yards receiving.

Vaughn is now the head coach at Memphis East, with Q a familiar presence at Mustangs’ practices. Cole is already thinking about paying it forward.

“Cassius came back when he didn’t have to,” Cole said. “He poured into guys like me, and I feel like I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without him. Who’s to say I could be in the same position for one of the young guys at the high school…that’s definitely a goal.”

Kickoff on Saturday from The Dome is at 11:30 AM and the game is televised on ABC.

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505