Vereen emerges from brother’s shadow into leader

Senior safety Brock Vereen will lead the Gophers’ secondary in 2013.

Gophers' defensive back Brock Vereen addresses the media at the Big Ten media days in Chicago on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

Dane Mizutani

Gophers’ defensive back Brock Vereen addresses the media at the Big Ten media days in Chicago on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

Dane Mizutani

CHICAGO — Brock Vereen sat stoically at a round table in a swanky Chicago hotel last week as a cluster of reporters surrounded him.

Vereen, dressed in an Armani suit and tie, was one of three players selected to represent the Gophers at Big Ten Media Days on July 24 and 25.

He’d come a long way since he was a high school freshman in Valencia, Calif. In the eyes of outsiders, he lived in the shadow of his older brother, Shane Vereen, who’s now a running back for the New England Patriots.

Brock knows he has a lot to prove in his final year with the Gophers in order to live up to the family name.

Brock is the definite leader of the Gophers defense this year and will play a fundamental role in whether the secondary can reproduce last season’s on-field success.

He leads with a plain humbleness that was evident at Big Ten Media Days.

“I know I’m the leader, but it’s a lot easier when everyone is confident, focused and ready to play,” Brocksaid.

His two other teammates at the event — senior Ra’Shede Hageman and junior Donnell Kirkwood — classified him as a quiet guy off the field and a vocal player on it.

“He’s going to let his actions speak louder than his words,” Kirkwood said.

A pair of shoes to fill

Shane is three years older than Brock and consistently owned the spotlight growing up.

Shane was a stud football player for Valencia High School, and as soon as he graduated, Brock knew he had big shoes to fill.

Brock said the pressure to perform was always there, but he had a support system that kept him from feeling like he was in his brother’s shadow.

“I don’t think [the pressure] affected me as much as it could have, and that’s a credit to my parents,” he said. “They never compared me to Shane, and I’m really thankful for that.”

Venita Vereen said a lot of people compared her two sons, but there was never a sibling rivalry.

“The people who knew Brock knew he wasn’t in his brother’s shadow,” Venita said. “He used Shane more as motivation growing up.”

Brock played running back growing up — the same position his brother starred at — but tried out for cornerback in high school and fell in love with the position.

“I guess I always figured, ‘Why get hit by someone when you can hit someone else?’” he said.

Brock played half a season on varsity with his older brother when he was a freshman and Shane was a senior.

Then Shane graduated and went on to play running back at California-Berkeley, leaving Brock to lead the team.

Brock excelled in his first couple seasons without his older brother on the roster while garnering interest from various Division I colleges.

He said he knew entering his junior season that he had the ability to follow his brother to the college level.

He proved it during his senior campaign.

Brock recorded 51 tackles, eight interceptions and a sack in his final season and led Valencia to a 12-1 record. 

While Shane was rising as a star running back at California, his little brother was a hot commodity as a cornerback recruit.

Brock narrowed his college choices to Minnesota and Stanford. He said he chose the Gophers because he wanted a fresh start.

“I wanted to try something new,” Vereen said. “I wanted to get out of California.”

A change in position

Brock’s first year on campus was all new to him — the campus, the classes, the people, the new teammates and losing on the football field.

“It was probably my most fun year of college,” he said. “It was frustrating from a football standpoint, but I think I grew on and off the field that year.”

The Gophers finished 3-9 in Brock’s freshman season and the coach who recruited him, Tim Brewster, was fired after seven games.

Brock said that was one of the hardest parts about his first year, but he said it helped him grow.

“It was frustrating to see a coach you committed to for four years leave after half a season,” Brock said. “A lot of thoughts go through your head like, ‘Did I make the right choice?’

“That really wasn’t anything against Minnesota,” he said. “It’s natural to have those feelings, but those were very short-lived.”

Brock said he talked to his older brother on the phone a lot in that time, which he said helped him realize he made the right choice.

Brock started all 12 games at cornerback that next season — the first year under coach Jerry Kill.

He put on 15 pounds in the offseason and at the start of his junior season switched to safety, where the Gophers lacked depth.

In his first collegiate game at free safety, Brock intercepted a pass. He was a key cog in the 2012 secondary that ranked among the nation’s best in pass defense.

A final chance to shine

Brock has followed a similar path to his older brother, but he’ll need to take yet another step forward to make the NFL.

In Hageman’s eyes, Brock has already started to make that jump.

“He has that no-quit attitude, and that comes out on the field,” Hageman said. “He’s a low-key, quiet dude off the field, but on the field he puts on that mask and he just has a mentality to win.”

Kill said Brock has taken a larger role as a leader throughout the offseason. He likened him to his older brother, just as many others have before, and said he thinks Brock can follow in his brother’s footsteps if he performs well this season.

“If I could have a team full of him, we wouldn’t lose very many games,” Kill said.

Brock said he has always dreamt of a career in the NFL, but that’s not his focus now. He said the expectation this season is a Big Ten championship.

Still, he said thoughts of the NFL cross his mind at times. And though he has been compared to his older brother for most of his life, Brock said he wouldn’t want it any different.

“He’s always shown me what it takes to succeed,” he said. “I saw that when I was in high school and he was in college, and now I’m seeing it again with him in the NFL.

“He’s always made me strive to be a better player.”