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Brock Vereen sees hard work pay off

Posted: December 26, 2013 9:54 p.m.
Updated: December 26, 2013 9:54 p.m.

Valencia High graduate Brock Vereen will play his last collegiate game with Minnesota today in the Texas Bowl versus Syracuse.

 

The thought crossed his mind.

Why am I here?

In the end, everything has been worth the beginning.

And the actual end for Brock Vereen comes today.

The Valencia High graduate and former All-Santa Clarita Valley and All-Foothill League defender will start at cornerback in the Texas Bowl for the resilient Minnesota Golden Gophers against Syracuse University.

This will be the senior’s last game for the Golden Gophers starting at 3 p.m. in Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

“There’ve been so many ups and downs,” Vereen admits of his career at Minnesota. “Early on there were obviously some times where I questioned, ‘Did I make the right choice?’ But now that I finished my last practice, looking back I wouldn’t change anything. To go out with such a high note compared to where we started is great.”

In Vereen’s first two seasons with the Golden Gophers, Minnesota went a combined 6-18.

He lost just eight games in three varsity seasons at Valencia High.

Vereen says he leaned on his support group to help him through those early doubts — his mother and father, his high school coach Larry Muir and his brother Shane, who played at Valencia High before him, played college football at Cal and is now a running back for the New England Patriots.

It all sort of came together for him his senior year.

By regular season’s end he was an All-Big Ten first-teamer, as voted on by the conference’s coaches.

He made 57 tackles, had a forced fumble, six pass breakups and an interception.

This was in a season that Minnesota was a surprise team in the Big Ten — going 8-4 overall and 4-4 in conference play.

The Golden Gophers lost the regular season finale 14-3 to the Rose Bowl-bound Michigan State Spartans.

This was a season where Minnesota overcame its own adversity.

Head coach Jerry Kill suffered a seizure prior to the Golden Gophers’ Oct. 5 game against Michigan that prevented him from coaching from the sideline the rest of the season.

It’s still unknown if he will coach from the Minnesota sideline or the press box today against Syracuse.

Kill has epilepsy and after his last seizure, the team rallied around him and won four straight after losing to Michigan.

“He’s had seizures before, so I think the team knew how to react,” Vereen says. “But once we realized it was a long-term deal, that’s when our captains really focused. ‘This can lead us down a road we don’t want to go down or we can make the best of it.’ It made us work harder. Instead of it being a distraction, it became motivation.”

It just so happens that Vereen is one of four captains on the team.

This season he received the honor of sharing the Paul Giel Award, which goes to the Golden Gopher player considered to have the most unselfishness and most concern about the University of Minnesota.

Vereen says it’s humbling to have received the honor, and he thinks his teammates voted him to win the award because in midseason he shifted from the more mentally demanding position of safety to the more physically demanding position of cornerback.

The team was hit with injuries at corner and had depth at safety and Vereen willingly went to corner, which he played his freshman and sophomore seasons.

But those who know him, know this wasn’t ever an issue for him.

He’s a team-first guy says one of his teammates, who used to be one of his foes.

“He was my host when I came up here (on a recruiting visit),” says former Canyon High and current Minnesota wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky. “He showed me what it’s really like. Sometimes recruits will get treated really nicely, yada, yada. But he made it real for me. He told me what it was going to be like. (When I got here), if I was feeling homesick or stressed out, he reassured me, ‘You’re going to grow. You’re going to get better, and things will get easier.’ And he was right.”

Vereen says a couple of years ago a Minnesota coach/recruiter was going out to California to watch some players and asked Vereen if he knew of anyone worth recruiting.

Vereen recalled playing against Wolitarsky when he was a senior and the Canyon High receiver was a freshman.

Wolitarsky made that big of an impression on Vereen that he gave the recruiter Wolitarsky’s name.

Recently the two have been facing off often in practice.

“He’s really smart. He’s one of the smartest defensive backs I’ve met,” Wolitarsky says. “He’s quick. He’s fast. But most of all what makes him great is how much he knows the game and how he reads offenses.”

It’s because of that smarts and the other aforementioned attributes that Vereen could be selected in the 2014 NFL Draft in May.

CBSSports.com has him rated as the 11th best strong safety available.

What could bolster his chances is an impact performance in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Jan. 18.

Vereen is the first Golden Gopher to make a Shrine Game roster since 2006.

“I’m very excited to head to Florida for some sun after all this snow,” Vereen says. “I’m just thankful for this opportunity. At the end of the day, all you need is one opportunity. I’m ready to make the most of it.”

As for the NFL ...

“My biggest thing is for my parents to say, ‘Both of my sons are in the NFL,’” Vereen says. “And that’s all the motivation I need.”

Vereen has taken some large steps in making a name for himself during his career at Minnesota.

Sure, he could open a lot of NFL scouts’ eyes playing big in a bowl game.

But this kind of sums up who he is.

He won’t be thinking so much about himself today.

It’s his team and a program he decided was right for him.

“Wins,” the 21-year-old communications major says he’s focused on today. “Nine wins. To get the most wins we’ve had here (since 2003) would be huge for our program. A big win here would be a lot of momentum for this team going into spring ball next season.”

cosborne@signalscv.com

661-287-5529

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