Column: Venice’s Sam Vaulton hopes to make most of spring football

Tennessee native Sam Vaulton will finally make his quarterback debut for Venice on Friday night.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Country music fan. Knows how to drive a tractor. Tennessee native and Tennessee accent. Favorite L.A. tourist moment: visiting the Hollywood sign. Can throw the perfect spiral even though he lost half his index finger on his right hand trying to fix a cable on his ATV in the eighth grade.

Sam Vaulton is an intriguing 18-year-old, and after waiting nearly a year to play quarterback for Venice High, he’s going to get his chance on Friday night against Palisades as the City Section finally launches a four-game spring football season.

“It was awful,” Vaulton said of moving to California in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. “As soon as we got out here, COVID hit. We haven’t been able to experience California like we could have.”

The fact Vaulton stayed despite the uncertainty of not knowing he’d have a senior season is most surprising. He and his parents had serious discussions in the fall about reversing course.

“We just needed a change of scenery, and I was looking to throw the ball more,” he said of the move west. “We sat down for a talk, ‘Do we want to move to a place they’re playing in the fall?’ We decided we committed to this, let’s hope for the best.”

At 6 feet 3 and 208 pounds, Vaulton has been coming to California to train with private quarterback coach Steve Clarkson since he was in seventh grade. He was the starter in 2019 at Alcoa High School, passing for 1,435 yards and 21 touchdowns for the 14-1 Tennessee Class 3A state champions.

“Sam is an incredible young man, and people just love him,” Clarkson said.


You can tell about his engaging personality in that he adds humor to the terrible accident he suffered when half his index finger got cut off trying to fix a cable on his ATV. He said the blood squirting around “was like one of those movie scenes.”

“When it happened, I could see the bone and could see how white the bone was,” he said.
“Once we got back to the house, it was, ‘Am I ever going to play football again?’”

Quarterback Sam Vaulton lost half his index finger while trying to fix an ATV in eighth grade.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Part of the severed finger was found with the hope of reattaching it, but the surgery ended up leaving the finger cut off at the knuckle. For Vaulton, quarterback was all he played, so learning to grip and throw a football without using the index finger became his new priority.

“Everything my index finger used to do my middle finger does now,” he said. “I had to go with what was left. I used to have my index finger leave the ball first. The middle finger had to do more of the work.”

Clarkson remembers getting the phone call from Vaulton’s father about the accident. Clarkson went outside and tried to throw the football not using his index finger. It didn’t work very well, yet Vaulton found a way.

“I’ve never heard such a calm kid,” Clarkson said. “It’s amazing to watch him. He’s got a plan and he’ll figure it out. He’s got all the tools you want in a quarterback, and he’s sneaky athletic.”


Said Venice coach Angelo Gasca: “He’s just a good person and a straight-A student. I’ve enjoyed this time with him. I’m sorry that it’s been so short. I wish he could have got to play his whole senior season. We’re just going to do the best we can with the time we have and we’ll see what happens for us and him. I’m sure he’ll play college football somewhere.”

Back in Tennessee, Vaulton has two brothers working on the family farm that has 100 cattle. Vaulton provided words of wisdom in dealing with cattle. “You want them to listen to you, so you stay in front of them,” he said.

Vaulton said his mother has enjoyed visits to the Port of Los Angeles. They’ve gone to the beach in Santa Monica. He’s still waiting for his first classroom experience at Venice. Teammates kid him about his accent.

“People asked me if I was trying to talk that way,” he said.