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Shane Vereen: Leading to believe

Vereen is using the past to push Cal — and his teammates — to a successful future

Posted: August 26, 2010 9:29 p.m.
Updated: August 27, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Valencia High graduate and Cal running back Shane Vereen (34) speeds away from the Utah defense during the Poinsettia Bowl on December 23, 2009, in San Diego. Vereen uses his rough senior season at Valencia as motivation while leading Cal.

 

Every single day.

That’s how often University of California, Berkeley junior running back Shane Vereen thinks of his senior season at Valencia.

Why?

Why, when Vereen had one of the most stellar careers in Santa Clarita Valley prep football history?

Why, when he’s become a rising star at Cal?

“Looking back on that season, what I learned from that is how important it is for everyone to be on the same page and for everyone to have the same goals,” Vereen says. “People (have to be) out there because they want to win. I learned about leadership and what I need to do.”

Valencia head coach Larry Muir remembers 2006 as a terrible season.

Players had different focuses. Players argued. Some gave up.

And it hurts him to think that Vereen went through that during his senior season, when he took the reins from state career passing yardage leader Michael Herrick as the team’s leader.

Muir remembers one game in particular when Vereen became so frustrated that his emotions took over.

On Oct. 27, 2006, Valencia led Hart 15-14 with under two minutes to play in the game.

Hart faced a fourth-and-20 and quarterback Alex Pettee’s pass was deflected into the hands of wide receiver Michael Vairo. That 38-yard completion led to the go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion.

Valencia lost the game 22-15 — two seasons after Vereen as a sophomore helped end the Indians’ 65-game Foothill League winning streak.

Vereen had just 35 rushing yards, but he scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown and an ensuing two-point conversion to give Valencia a 15-14 lead.

Valencia fell to a disappointing 2-7, ensuring it would miss the postseason for the first time since 1996.

“He had a hard, angry cry,” Muir recalls Vereen doing after the game. “It was his team. Great leader. No one followed him. That’s why he took it so hard.”

Muir says Vereen played with leaders before, Like Herrick and All-CIF linebacker Torrey O’Brien and All-CIF wide receiver Shane Morales.

Vereen looked around in 2006 and they were gone.

Then everything went south.

Though he established a Santa Clarita Valley record with 354 rushing yards on just 14 carries against Golden Valley on Oct. 13, the year was a disappointment.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t remember losing to Hart,” Vereen says. “I think about that season every day. It’s a reminder of how bad things can happen if proper work is not put in. It’s a huge motivator for me. It’s been a motivator ever since it ended. I haven’t forgot about one thing. Shoot, I can talk about every game and tell you how we lost it. It was the absolute opposite of what anybody wants during a season.”

With that motivation in his back pocket, Runaway Shane is out to make sure Cal has a big 2010.

As a sophomore in 2009, Vereen built momentum.

On Nov. 7, starting running back Jahvid Best suffered a concussion and would not return for the rest of the season. He would later declare for the NFL Draft, ending his collegiate career.

Vereen stepped in after the Best injury and rushed for 576 yards over Cal’s final four games. Included in that was a 42-carry, 193-yard performance on Nov. 21 in a 34-28 victory over Stanford and a 132-yard effort in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23.

The 21-year-old rushed for 952 yards, scored 12 touchdowns and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition, despite less playing time than most starting running backs in the conference.

Now Vereen is one of the faces of Cal football.

His face is on ticket sales material and the media guide.

ESPN college football analyst Todd McShay picked him out of all the players across the country to have a breakout 2010.

Vereen realizes that he is receiving more — a lot more — attention.

“I try to take it a little at a time,” says the 5-foot-10-inch, 205-pound communications major. “I try to stay focused at the task at hand.”

Muir says there were two things he told recruiters when they were looking at Vereen in high school — he’d be the face of the program and he’d be a team captain. He says Vereen is the best student-athlete he has ever had.

Cal head coach Jeff Tedford acknowledges that Vereen is a special kid.

“Impeccable, he’s such a quality kid,” Tedford says. “He’s great for the team. He’s a very good leader. Quiet, but when he talks, people listen because they have so much respect for him. He has a lot of respect for his teammates as well, so he’s a team player through and through, and it’s team above self with him. He just tries to do his best to play his role, and that happens to be a huge role.”

Ironic.

He’s not even a senior yet and he’s considered a leader.

Boys may not have followed four years ago.

Men are now.

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