UNLV a special place for Vereen family
The UNLV football program rarely creates more than a ripple
nationally. It holds a much more special place in the hearts of the
The family will have a homecoming of sorts on Thursday night
when Minnesota opens the season against the Rebels.
Golden Gophers junior Brock Vereen will be playing his first
game at safety, and his parents will be in the stands, watching
their son play in very familiar surroundings. Vereen’s father Henry
was a standout, do-it-all kind of player for the Rebels in the late
1970s before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His mother,
Venita, was a tennis player at UNLV.
”So there’s genes in there,” Brock Vereen said. ”There’s a
little history at UNLV. Unfortunately, on Thursday they’re not
going to be able to root for them.”
Brock, who was raised in Valencia, Calif., has been on the UNLV
campus before and seen his father’s name in the school record
books. Henry was a running back, receiver and return man, and his
4,280 all-purpose yards from 1975-78 remains as the second-best
mark in UNLV history.
”I’ve been to the campus, seen my father’s … records and all
that stuff,” Vereen said. ”But on Thursday the Vereen family is
not rooting for UNLV, that’s for sure.”
The athletic gene has been passed from parents to children, with
Shane Vereen competing for the starting running back job with the
New England Patriots and Brock moving from cornerback to safety in
hopes of adding some more playmaking to the back end of the
The Gophers’ defense only created nine turnovers last season,
which was tied for last in the bowl subdivision. So Vereen and
fellow cornerback Derrick Wells were moved to safety in an effort
to bring more ball-hawking instincts to the position. It’s been an
adjustment for Vereen, who started all 12 games at cornerback last
season and intercepted one pass.
”As smooth I think as it could’ve gone,” Vereen said. ”Early
on there’s been some mistakes and there still are, but the mistakes
are getting less and less and as we’re getting closer to the game,
it needs to be zero in order to perform well.”
He and Wells are leaning on each other through the transition,
swapping ideas and comparing notes while competing for playing
time. Wells got a bit of a jumpstart because Vereen missed spring
practice with a knee injury.
”We both come from the same position, going to the same
position,” Vereen said. ”Knowing both is a benefit, but Derrick
has been a safety for spring. I wasn’t fortunate enough to practice
in spring. So I’ve been going to him for a leadership role, just
taking everything from him that he can give me.”
Throw in Cedric Thompson and freshman Antonio Johnson and coach
Jerry Kill likes the look, if not the experience, of the group.
”I think we’ve improved the depth at that position and our
speed and size,” Kill said. ”But it’s inexperienced and they’ve
got to go play and I’m sure they’ll do some great things and I
think they’ll probably learn some hard lessons as the season goes,
but certainly talented and worked hard.”
Their first chance to make an impact will be against UNLV’s
struggling passing game. Redshirt freshman Nick Sherry will be
making his first career start in the opener, which could give
Vereen and the rest of the Gophers’ secondary some chances to
capitalize on that inexperience.
”They’re our quarterback,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys
said of the safeties. ”He’s always watched a lot of film, and the
game has been important to him, so that was really, of all the
transitions, that one was a no-brainer. We didn’t have any concerns
about him not being able to do that.”
One concern the team does have is the heat in Las Vegas.
Quarterback MarQueis Gray struggled with dehydration issues a few
times last season, and Kill has been hounded by trainers to stay
hydrated on the sideline in an effort to keep his problem with
seizures under control.
”We’ve had a few warm days, but nothing like you’re going to
have out there,” Kill said. ”There’s no way you can prepare for
something like that. The thing you prepare for is a lot of depth,
and the other part of it is you’ve got to plan on playing a lot of
kids. And then the third thing is how you take care of your
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.
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