SI Vault
August 21, 2012
Before striding into big-time college football, he had to get past his toughest challengers—Mom, Dad and Bro
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August 21, 2012

A Special Kind Of Homeschooling

Before striding into big-time college football, he had to get past his toughest challengers—Mom, Dad and Bro

BROCK VEREEN HATES TO LOSE. HIS INTENSELY COMPETITIVE FAMILY MADE SURE OF IT. IN supposed friendlies while growing up in Southern California, he received no allowances. Not from his mother, Venita (a letter winner on the UNLV tennis team in the 1970s), who fought him on every line call in matches on their neighborhood court. Not from his father, Henry (a UNLV wide receiver who later played in the CFL in the early '80s), who spotted him no points in their backyard hoops tangles. And especially not from his brother, Shane (now a reserve running back with the New England Patriots), whose three-year head start into the world gave him the edge in a decades-long rivalry contested with bikes, baseball gloves and video-game controllers. Still, no one beat up on Brock worse than Brock himself. After each loss, recalls Shane, "he would just shut off completely. It drove my mom especially crazy."

Adds Venita, "I always thought he'd be a golfer, something that wasn't team related." Instead Brock became that kid: the point guard who seethed when teammates clanged open looks, the outfielder who boiled over when others dropped routine pop-ups. At Valencia High he was the brilliant wide receiver and cornerback who demanded maximum effort from his teammates. Among a class of equally high achievers, Brock led the Vikings to a 12--1 mark his senior year. "I got all my competitive drive from [Shane]," Brock says. His high school heroics generated interest from Cal, where Shane shone in a backfield that also included Detroit Lions star Jahvid Best. But Brock, breaking for the daylight just beyond Shane's shadow, instead chose Minnesota. There, some 2,000 miles from home, he could distinguish himself, maybe even relaunch a program that hadn't been to a Rose Bowl in nearly 50 years.

Brock's freshman year was the ultimate test of nerve. Undermanned in the secondary, the Gophers played him immediately; he struggled. In nine appearances at cornerback (four starts), Vereen made just 10 tackles. Minnesota lost nine straight on the way to a three-win season. It should've been enough to send Vereen looking to transfer to a bigger, badder BCS school. But as much as he hates to lose, Vereen hates quitting even more. Besides, he would've gained nothing from leaving just then, not while a core truth about competition—Everybody loses, but winners don't let the same game beat them twice—was finally sinking in.

You can't tell Jerry Kill that his 5' 11", 195-pound bruiser isn't made of sterner stuff. "If I'm recruiting a kid and looking at the insides of him, I want him to be like Brock," the second-year coach says. Kill knows how hard it is to gain the trust of a locker room full of players he didn't recruit. But Brock, by immediately buying into Kill's button-down approach, made it a smooth transition. Though the Gophers lost nine games again in 2011, they stayed close in about a third of them. Vereen set the tone in the opener at No. 25 USC, collecting a game-high 13 stops in a near upset. That was the beginning of a 67-tackle breakout season in which he also led the team with eight passes defended.

This year Brock, who ranks third among all Minnesota returnees in tackles, moves to safety. Kill is convinced the shift will give the Gophers an even better chance to win. Thanks to all the time his parents and brother spent (home) schooling him, Vereen won't back down from the challenge.