Aug 29, 2013
These days, the Vereen family is spread out across the country. Parents Henry and Venita live in California. Their son Shane plays his home football games for the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass. Their younger son Brock is in between, playing football and attending school at the University of Minnesota.
But there is one place where it all began, the place where Henry and Venita met. That place is a school whose sporting events Shane and Brock watched as youngsters. As fate would have it, that school -- UNLV -- ended up being one of Brock's football opponents two seasons in a row.
Henry, who is from Las Vegas, ranks second in UNLV football's career all-purpose yards records. He and Venita, a collegiate tennis player, met at UNLV. Their children grew up in California, but had some allegiances to the Rebels. Brock Vereen first set foot on the UNLV campus at a young age. He also visited in high school while weighing his options for college.
Shane had stayed close to home, playing football at California and graduating early before the Patriots drafted him in 2011. When it came time for Brock to choose a school, he thought about UNLV, and strongly considered nearby Stanford, but ultimately went halfway across the country to join the Golden Gophers.
"The possibility of playing at the same school that my dad had created so much history at was a special thought, but at the same time, Minnesota ended up being the place for me," he said. "I think it came down to wanting to try something new, wanting to get a new experience in a new place and knowing that I had a lot of family in Minnesota and in the Midwest. If it ever came down to it, I also had a reliable source to fall back on. It was a home away from home."
"Brock has always, to me, seemed to be a little different," Henry said. "I know his birthday's in a different time of the year and all that. I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but he seems to be the adventurous type."
Distance has not stopped Brock's parents from attending his games. They travel frequently to watch both their sons play. The Gophers' 2012 season opener brought them back to their alma mater as Minnesota faced UNLV under the lights on Aug. 30.
"I heard the fight song and I got very teary-eyed to see my son on the field during the fight song of the school I used to go to," Venita said. "It was very emotional. It was awesome. Life kind of came full circle for me at that point."
Henry, who played in the same stadium in the 1970s, described the game as "surreal." Some of Henry's teammates were there, too, and Brock met them after the game. Brock traded in his red, black and white t-shirts for maroon and gold when he committed to Minnesota, but the unique nature of the game still had an effect on him.
"It was more emotional than I thought that it would be," he said. "It didn't really hit me until I took the field and I looked up and I saw my dad and my mom, UNLV alumni themselves. It just finally hit me that I'm playing at the same place that my dad had set records on. It was a special feeling."
The Gophers went on to win in three overtimes that night. It was Brock's first game playing safety after switching from the cornerback position. As his junior season went on, he settled into the safety spot and moved into the starting lineup.
"What you get from him is consistency, reliability," defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel said. "He's got experience. He's not going to panic. He's not going to flinch. He's a really good player."
Entering his senior year, Vereen has come a long way as a safety since last August.
"A lot of that is a credit to Coach Sawvel, and a lot of that is a credit to my fellow defensive backs for making me feel comfortable, knowing that they're playmakers themselves who are going to do their job, which allows me to focus more on my job," he said.
Going into a second game against UNLV, the secondary and the team in general want to show their improvement. The Gophers won last year's duel, but Vereen believes that they have as much to prove as the Rebels in the rematch.
"We feel like we didn't play as well as we could, and that the game shouldn't have come to (three overtimes)," he said. "So we really hope to start this season off on a better foot than we did last year."
Vereen and his fellow defensive backs have a goal to be the Big Ten's best secondary. They believe they have the depth to replace last year's senior starters, Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. Even though those two are no longer on the team, their influence will continue this year. Vereen said that he learned physicality from Stoudermire, and how to watch film from Carter. He also learns from daily talks with his big brother.
"Shane gives me a lot of advice, and most of it isn't even football related," Brock said. "I think he's constantly teaching me even when he doesn't think that he is. I've watched him closely. He's at the level that I want to be at, so of course I want to do what he did to get there."
"It's so great that they have each other, and it helps me to know that they have each other to talk to and they're not talking to just anyone who may not be giving them good advice," Venita said. "I really think advice goes both ways, but he looks up to Shane and he's so glad he's had him to help him through some of the rough spots."
Brock has gone through a few tough situations, including a coaching change after his freshman season and a knee injury in the 2012 offseason, all away from home. He has emerged a stronger football player, and a stronger person overall.
"I think the most development I've seen in Brock was probably mentally," Henry said. "I remember when he left for his first few years, and he came back, and he was such a different person, such a different player. He was more dedicated to the game. He was starting to understand what it takes to be successful in football, as far as dedication, as far as working out and just being prepared."
Brock has been successful on and off the field. Going back to grade school, his parents made sure academics were a priority. Brock is on schedule to graduate early with a communications degree. He hopes to start a career in broadcasting whenever his football career is done.
"There just aren't words for how proud we are of him," Venita said. "From the first year when he stepped on the field to now, he's grown so much. We couldn't have asked for a better young man out of him right now."
Henry and Venita are proud, to be sure, but they are not surprised.
"One of my fondest moments of Brock, and when I knew that he was going to be something special was when we played flag football and he caught a 40-yard punt in the air and ran it back," Henry said. "I think he was like eight or nine years old. The determination that I saw on his face in catching the ball -- it was just amazing."
Determination and a sense of adventure have helped Brock to form his own identity and do things his own way, while still remaining close to his family and living out the values he learned from them. The Gophers' games against UNLV have been an added bonus for the family. Brock, who grew up cheering for his parents' alma mater, now has his parents rooting for Minnesota.
"I think when we went to UNLV last year, that was my UNLV moment," Henry said. "I will always have ties to UNLV. I will always like them as long as they're not playing Minnesota. But I think by (this year's game) being in Minnesota, I don't think I'm going to have that attachment or that school spirit. I think it's going to be all Gophers."
Story written by athletic communications assistant Justine Buerkle
Sherels, Murray, Boddy-Calhoun Impact NFL Game
Sherels, Murray, Boddy-Calhoun impact NFL games with big plays. Sherels punt return sparks Minnesota to win, while Boddy-Calhoun returned an interception for a touchdown.
Game 4: Minnesota at Penn State
Minnesota opens Big Ten play at Penn State on Saturday, Oct. 1. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and can be heard on KFAN.
Kick Time Set for Gophers - Hawkeyes
Minnesota will host Iowa at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8. The game will be on either ABC or ESPN2 and can be heard on KFAN.