Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen (21) celebrates after intercepting a pass in the second half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at TCF Bank Stadium on Sep. 28.
Jesse Johnson/Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS — The conversations that Brock Vereen now has with his brother, Shane, no longer revolve around music or their favorite television shows. Instead, younger brother Brock picks his older brother’s brain for career advice.
Shane Vereen is currently a running back for the New England Patriots and has found success in the NFL playing alongside future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. Brock, currently a senior defensive back for the University of Minnesota, has NFL aspirations of his own as he hopes to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
After the Gophers face Syracuse in the Texas Bowl on Friday, Brock Vereen’s focus will shift entirely to preparing himself for playing at the next level — and he has a pretty good resource to fall back on.
"The closer you get, the harder it is to not look past it, especially talking to Shane," Vereen said. "We’re starting to talk more about these goals of the NFL and everything. It’s natural, but at the same time I know the first step is getting a Texas Bowl win."
Vereen still remembers what it was like for his older brother to go through the same process that he himself will soon embark upon. Shane Vereen was a running back at Cal, where he rushed for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010. That led to the Patriots selecting Vereen in the second round (56th overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Brock Vereen likely won’t be taken that early in the draft; instead, he’ll probably be taken on May 10, the third and final day of the upcoming draft. While so many experts attempt to project where different players will go, Vereen pleads that ignorance is bliss.
"I’ve told everybody not to tell me. I don’t want to know anything," he said. "Shane obviously has an inside foot on everything. He wants to tell me stuff, but no, I just want to go out and work and whatever happens happens."
There’s still plenty of work for Vereen to do before the draft weekend in early May. Of course, he’ll play in the Texas Bowl later this week as a veteran in the Gophers’ secondary. After that, Vereen will also take part in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 18 in St. Petersburg, Fla. The annual postseason All-Star game has helped numerous players jump-start their NFL careers, and Vereen hopes it can do the same for him.
Once that game is done, he’ll spend the next several months training for the NFL Combine either in either Florida or his native California. Vereen will also participate in Minnesota’s pro day on campus, where various NFL executives will come and get a closer look at Vereen and his Gophers teammates.
All of these workouts and all the eyes that will be watching Vereen can certainly be stressful, but his big brother has already given him advice on how to get through the grind of the next several months.
"I think the most important thing that he said is have fun with it," Vereen said. "It’s natural to be nervous. There’s going to be times when you doubt yourself. There’s going to be times when you’re more confident than you should be. The most important thing is to just have fun with the process. Having him in my corner the next couple months will be huge."
Vereen has been steady during his four-year Gophers career, even making four starts as a true freshman in 2010. He has since thrived under head coach Jerry Kill since he took over in 2011, and has shown versatility as he’s played both safety and cornerback.
Vereen’s impressive senior season — during which he had 56 tackles, seven pass deflections and an interception — earned him first-team All-Big Ten honors, a nice feather in his cap as he readies himself for life after Minnesota.
While Vereen has his older brother to help with the transition, the Gophers’ coaching staff is also more than willing to prepare its players for playing at the next level. Running backs coach Brian Anderson serves as the team’s NFL liaison and helped get Vereen into the Shrine Game. And of course, Kill has experience with former players making it to the NFL — including last year’s quarterback, MarQueis Gray, who is now a tight end with the Cleveland Browns.
"I think we try to do the best communication we can give," Kill said of the transition process. "We visit with them all the time. Just like I told the team, you’ve got to be a professional off the field and you’ve got to be a professional on the field as well as the classroom and everything like that, so that makes you have an opportunity. We have a lot of good resources just besides the coaching staff, and a lot of living proof that we’re fortunate to have a lot of kids that are playing."
In the hallway leading to the Gophers’ practice field at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex, one entire wall is filled with helmets of each of the 32 NFL teams. Under the helmets are lists of former Gophers players who have played for those teams.
Vereen has one more game to play in maroon and gold, but he can’t help but think about what it would be like to have his name on that wall some day.
"It really hasn’t hit me yet," Vereen said. "I’m so thankful for everything, but at the same time it’s hard not to be excited for the future."