The Gophers' Brock Vereen is eager to emerge from the shadow of his NFL-playing brother.
By TYLER MASONFS North
MINNEAPOLIS — On the football field, Gophers junior
Brock Vereen is a no-nonsense type of guy.
The Valencia, Calif., native made the transition from cornerback to safety this offseason. After missing the spring camp with minor knee surgery, Vereen has dedicated himself to learning a new position. At safety, it's up to him to communicate with the rest of the defense and to make the right reads. It's something he didn't have to do as a cornerback during his freshman and sophomore seasons, when he appeared in 21 games and made 16 starts.
Off the field, though, Vereen isn't afraid to crack a joke or lighten the mood on Twitter, where the junior safety has quickly gained a fervent following on the social networking site. While most players will tweet mundane details of their day-to-day activities, Vereen
(@brockvereen21) has gained a reputation as the funniest tweeter on the team.
"Brock's definitely a character on Twitter. He's really funny," said fellow safety Cedric Thompson. "He tweets everything he does all the time and he always puts some spin or joke on it. It's definitely good to follow him."
While Vereen spends time studying his playbook, he insists he doesn't spend time coming up with his Twitter material. The jokes, topical observations or otherwise humorous commentary comes naturally, Vereen said, much to the delight of his more than 1,100 followers.
"When I get bored, I put something down. That's basically how it goes," he said. "I would say we have a team full of characters. It would be selfish to keep all these funny moments to myself."
For the record, Vereen said punter Pete Mortell (@PMortell37) is the second-best tweeter on the team. But Mortell has a ways to go to challenge Vereen for the title.
While Vereen's inspiration for his tweets come from his own imagination, he draws some of his football inspiration from his older brother, Shane, a running back for the New England Patriots. After attending the University of California-Berkeley,
Shane Vereen was a second-round pick for New England in the 2011 NFL Draft. He saw action in five games in 2011, rushing for 57 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries as a rookie.
Brock Vereen chats with his brother frequently, although there hasn't been as much time lately to do so while the Patriots are in training camp and the Gophers are finishing up fall practices. When the Vereen brothers do get the chance to talk, though, Brock is like a sponge, soaking up any advice Shane can offer.
"He's where I want to be so I want to pick his brain," Brock Vereen said. "I want to know everything it took to get to the level he's at."
Added Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys: "I think the best thing it does is he's had chances to have conversations with his brother about the success he's had and how to handle it and how to prepare to be that successful."
For now, Vereen is focusing on learning a new position. He's battling for a starting spot at safety with Thompson and Derrick Wells, another cornerback who made the transition to safety.
While relatively inexperienced at the safety position, the Gophers like the athleticism that those safeties possess.
"We've increased our size at safety, increased our speed at safety," said Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill. "With the stuff you have to do in the secondary to survive in this day and age of the game, you're playing with big corners at safety anyway that are physical."
With the Gophers' first game of the season less than two weeks away, Vereen says he's enjoyed the challenge of a position change. Playing safety comes with added responsibility, but Vereen has taken that increased responsibility head-on.
Vereen has shown he's arguably the team's top tweeter. Now he's out to show that he can be one of its top defenders, too.
"He's a little bit behind assignment-wise because he didn't practice in the spring. But what's great about him is usually one correction and he's got it taken care of," Claeys said of Vereen. "He's worked tremendously hard this summer. He's got great respect as far as a leader goes. That helps a lot when you're communicating and the guy back there is respected by all the kids."