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NFL: Season of proof

Valencia High graduate Shane Vereen enters his second year in the pros with a hunger

Posted: July 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Valencia High graduate Shane Vereen ran the ball 15 times for 57 with a touchdown in 2011 - his rookie NFL season with the New England Patriots.

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On the second day of practice in the summer last year, New England Patriots rookie and Valencia High graduate Shane Vereen was running the football.

The smooth, shifty running back then changed gears and, as he said, “pop goes the weasel.”

That pop was his right hamstring.

What it cost the always good-natured football player was an opportunity to compete for a starting position and further cost Vereen playing time during the 2011 NFL season, a season in which his Patriots made it to the Super Bowl.

“As soon as it happened, I knew what I did, and I knew how bad it kind of was because how bad it hurt,” Vereen recalls. “It was like, I just got here, I was trying to prove myself. It’s tough. Especially for a rookie.”

It’s a new day.

Vereen’s rookie season is over.

One of the most electrifying football players in Santa Clarita Valley history is now poised to compete in New England.

“Very hungry. It’s hard to really say, but I’m extremely hungry,” Vereen says. “I just want to win. I want to feel like I really contributed to the team’s success.”

The 23-year-old says despite the injury, which cost him playing time early, and a subsequent second tweak of the hamstring and third of the other hamstring, he felt he was part of the team last year.

He played in five games and ran the ball 15 times for 57 yards.

The most promising game was on Nov. 21, when he ran the ball eight times for 39 yards, scoring his first NFL touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 2007 Valencia graduate says he feels blessed to have received the opportunities he had last year.

First and foremost, the former Cal running back was drafted in the second round by one of the NFL’s premier franchises.

Second, he got to play with and under future Hall of Famers — quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

Vereen admits that early on it was special receiving the football from Brady.

“I’d say the first week or so it was like, ‘Dang, Tom Brady’s handing the ball off to me.’ Then it takes a couple of times of him getting on your butt. Then it’s like, ‘It’s just a quarterback. Get the ball and run,” Vereen says.

Vereen adds that it’s Brady’s ultra-competitive nature that makes him the quarterback he is.

As for Belichick, Vereen has a much different view on his head coach than what is presented to the general public.

“Who he is in the media is not who he is as a person and a coach,” Vereen says. “Talking to reporters is not always what he likes to do, so people think he’s a boring, dry guy, but really he’s not at all. You can talk to him very easily. He has a very dry sense of humor, very funny person. And I think his football sense, obviously he’s won three Super Bowls, his football sense speaks for itself.”

Belichick has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls, including last season’s Super Bowl XLVI.

Vereen was a spectator for it, as he was inactive for the game.

Vereen says he was feeling like he might get a chance to play in the postseason, but was never activated after recovering from his third hamstring injury, which happened late in the season.

Nonetheless, the Super Bowl experience was unlike anything he’s ever felt.

“The Super Bowl experience was still unbelievable,” Vereen says. “It’s really hard to put it in words, but it’s like you just watch the Super Bowl as a little kid, it’s a big deal at the house. Family and friends and you’re having a big party and it’s all centered around the game. And now, to be a part of that game, it was pretty awesome.”

Yet, there was still an emptiness as the Patriots lost to the New York Giants 21-17.

Vereen participated in organized team activities (OTAs) and a mini-camp before the summer and was running at times with the first-team offense.

He counts the number of Patriots running backs on his fingers. There are six on the roster, including veteran Danny Woodhead, recent signee and veteran Joseph Addai and 2011 third-round pick Stevan Ridley — who carried the ball 39 times in the Patriots’ final three regular season games.

Vereen, ever-humble, took the stance that he wants to be the best running back he can be and help the team in any way possible, whether it be as a starting back, a third-down back or on special teams.

But he’s hungry.

And competition awaits.

Vereen takes off for New England today and camp begins on Wednesday.

“I’ve got to play well and make plays. At the end of the day, it comes down to who can make plays and who can’t make plays,” Vereen says of the competition for running back. “I don’t think I’d be as motivated if there weren’t as many running backs on our roster right now. It’s a little kick in the butt that you have to bring your A-game today. Every day I go out to practice I feel they’re going to be evaluating how I do.”

Game 1 is Sept. 9 at Tennessee.

cosborne@

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