ENGLEWOOD — Chase Vaughn called in sick last week, telling his bosses at National Jewish Health where he answered phone calls from people wanting to stop smoking or lose weight that he had the stomach flu.
He was actually interviewing for another job.
And when he was hired for that new gig this week, he had to go back to the hospital and 'fess up.
"I said, 'Thank you guys for the opportunity, but this is once in a lifetime. This is what I've been working toward for five years. And I'd like to put in two weeks' notice and be professional about it, but obviously I can't do that right now,'" Vaughn recounted in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"And they understood. They were like, 'OK, well, it's the Broncos, so go ahead.'"
Vaughn is a 25-year-old long-shot linebacker who was added to Denver's 90-man offseason roster this week after an impressive tryout at the team's rookie minicamp last weekend.
"Oh man, it's incredible. Probably the first thing I felt, honestly, was relief because it's been such a long, weird journey," said Vaughn, who's playing in his fifth professional football league.
Vaughn (6-foot-2 and 248 pounds) attended Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, Colorado, and then went to Division II Adams State. But when the coaching staff there was fired after his sophomore season, he was allowed to transfer in conference and he went to Colorado State-Pueblo, where he helped resurrect the ThunderWolves' program.
In his first game, he broke the NCAA Division II record with 4½ sacks against Oklahoma Panhandle State and finished with 10½ sacks that season. He added five more as a senior and graduated in 2009 with a degree in exercise science.
That's when his long, strange journey really began.
It started with his first of three stints with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, where he was cut at the end of training camp.
He returned to his home state and played five games for the Colorado Ice of the Indoor Football League before being summoned back to Las Vegas, where he was cut a second time.
This time, though, he immediately signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, where he once again was cut at the end of training camp.
So, it was back to Las Vegas, where he made the team this time.
"And then halfway through the season, they went bankrupt," Vaughn said with a laugh. "So, the first time I made a team, the league went bankrupt."
He then signed with the Spokane Shock of the Arena Football League, where he lasted most of the season before getting released with three games remaining. "It was more of a numbers thing, injuries at other positions, which was fine," Vaughn said. "I wasn't a huge fan of the Arena Football League. So, I left arena football and got a regular job for a couple of months."
Although he appreciated his job at National Jewish Health, a leading respiratory hospital, working in a cubicle wasn't for him, he said.
"About a month of that and I was like, I can't do this," Vaughn said. "And I started working out again with my trainer. My trainer said I looked pretty good, probably the best I ever had looked. And that's when the opportunity came along to work out with the Denver Broncos, and I did fantastic, I guess."
That earned him an invitation to the team's rookie camp and he turned some heads there, too.
Vaughn said he realizes most people will wonder why he doesn't just give up his dream of playing pro football and get on with his life. But deep down he'd always know he sold himself short if he did that.
"I know I can play at this level and I had a hard time accepting not getting a chance to," Vaughn said. "I was always a victim of the numbers game or bankruptcy or something ridiculous. So, that ate away at me. Sitting at the cubicle, thinking, I'm the biggest, strongest, fastest guy in this hospital right now who could be playing pro football and I'm not, for whatever reason. That ate away at me."