Henry and Venita Vereen have one son in the NFL and another who has become a key member of the Gophers’ defense. But when the two were boys growing up in California, the family had a strict rule — no football until all homework was finished.
“People always think I’m lying when I tell them,” said Gophers safety Brock Vereen. “There were multiple times when we were sitting on the sideline in full gear, doing homework. And the second we finished, we got to go practice.”
Those values helped the Vereen brothers thrive academically at Valencia (Calif.) High School, and then in college. Brock, 21, is three years younger than Shane, who was a standout running back at California before the Patriots drafted him in the second round.
Brock has a smaller national profile, but the Gophers believe he’s coming on strong entering his senior season. This summer, Athlon magazine tabbed Vereen as a preseason third-team All-Big Ten selection.
So what has this all been like for Mom and Dad?
“As parents, it’s the same feeling whether your kids are 6 years old or 46 or 56,” Henry said. “You want to see them get through it healthy more than anything else.”
The Gophers open their season Thursday against UNLV, the alma mater for both Vereen parents.
Henry was a wide receiver and kick returner for the Rebels in the late 1970s. He still holds the school record for longest touchdown catch (87 yards) and ranks second in career kick return yardage with 2,265. He got drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and went on to play for the BC Lions in the Canadian Football League.
One offseason, he was back in Las Vegas working out, when he met his future wife. A former high school classmate introduced him to Venita, who had a strong career of her own as a tennis player at UNLV.
The Vereens settled down in Southern California, and soon Henry’s football career came to an end. He went for a pass and shredded a knee while trying to avoid some camera equipment on the sideline. He still smiles, thinking about the coincidence; he wound up launching a career — in television.
As a video engineer, he sets up edit bays and control rooms and does some of his own camera work. Brock and Shane have fond memories of tagging along with their dad when he worked at events such as the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. They stood on the red carpet.
Shane left for the NFL after three seasons at Cal, but he was there long enough to get a degree in media studies. Brock is majoring in communications studies. When his playing career ends, Brock knows exactly what he wants to do.
“Anything with a camera and a microphone,” he said.
Henry is quick to deflect credit for his sons’ success. He traveled frequently for work when they were young, so Venita was the one making sure they did their homework.
“She had to be the bad guy,” Henry said. “I was the guy who got to come home and take them to Magic Mountain or the batting cage.”
These days, the parents prefer attending Gophers and Patriots home games because the players have less time to visit when they’re on the road. The Vereens try to have at least one parent at each home game, but sometimes grandparents fill in to make sure the family’s represented. Venita has a brother who lives in Minneapolis, and Brock had an easier time leaving home after high school knowing he’d have family close by.
Last January, Brock was in the stands when Shane electrified Gillette Stadium with a breakout performance against Houston. The 5-10, 205-pound running back scored three touchdowns and combined for 123 yards rushing and receiving in a playoff victory.
“Being able to be there, that was such a special moment,” Brock said.
The brothers remain extremely close, talking on the phone at least once per day. Shane helped lift Brock’s spirits when he tore meniscus in his knee, forcing him to have surgery and miss spring practice in 2012. The injury coupled with a switch from cornerback to safety left Brock catching up in the Gophers secondary early last season.
But by season’s end, he locked down a role as a starter, notching nine tackles against Michigan, eight tackles against Nebraska and a 30-yard interception return against Michigan State.
“The only reason he’s not really, really well known across the Big Ten is he missed that spring, so his fall started a little bit slow,” Gophers defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel said. “There are a lot of [defensive backs, nationally] that are very highly touted, and they don’t play near as well as him.”
At 6 feet and 202 pounds, Brock might have the makings of his own NFL career.
“I think the University of Minnesota in general is full of late bloomers,” he said. “I think with our lack of success in previous years, we’ve been overlooked. Coach [Jerry] Kill has brought it together, and now the talent’s showing.”
Brock Vereen might have a future in broadcasting, but much like his brother, he’s eager to see where his playing talent takes him first.