Pac-10 Professional Spotlight: Alterraun Verner
By Brian Anthony Price
Alterraun Verner, a rookie cornerback for the Tennessee Titans, is the kind of athlete the NFL dreams of: an impact player on the field, a scholar and an all-around role model. What's more, he's one of the UCLA Bruins' biggest supporters.
Verner graduated from Mayfair High School in Lakewood, Calif., where, in addition to football, he loved chemistry, physics and math. One of his former administrators remembers him well.
"Alterraun took the hardest classes we had," Mayfair Assistant Principal Matt Eeles said. "He and his family prided themselves on his commitment to academics. He was involved in every program, and he tutored other players on the team. We couldn't have had a finer student than Alterraun."
On the field, it was not uncommon for Verner to play the entire game. During his senior year at Mayfair, he played wide receiver (accumulating over 900 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns), defensive back/linebacker (racking up 56 tackles) and also came on as a return man for special teams (7 kickoff returns for 407 yards and one touchdown).
Verner graduated from Mayfair with a 4.17 GPA, scored a 1740 on the SAT and was named to the Honor Roll all four years. Eeles noted that despite Verner's success, the future UCLA Bruin was always refreshingly humble.
His unique talent - on and off the field - did not go unnoticed.
"His skill set are rare in player, but that he was so strong academically made him a must-get player," said Jon Embree, former UCLA assistant head coach. "We knew he could help our program immediately."
Embree, now an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins, added that as a true freshman at UCLA, Verner became a lynchpin on defense appearing in every game. Despite not starting, Verner compiled 49 tackles, the fourth most on the team that year. With equal energy, he declared his major in mathematics and applied sciences.
During the course of his UCLA career, he started 35 of 50 games. As a senior, he was named a team captain, third-team All-America, first-team All-Pac-10, and received Academic All-Pac-10 honors. He also holds a UCLA career record of four interceptions returned for touchdowns. Following graduation, Verner was selected by the NFL's Tennessee Titans in the fourth round (104th overall) of the 2010 NFL draft.
He entered Tennessee's training camp knowing the Titans were expecting an instant contribution much like he had produced for UCLA as a freshman. The transition to the NFL was daunting, but Titans defensive lineman Dave Ball, also a former Bruin, was eager to help.
"The first day of camp, I made a beeline right to Alterraun," Ball said. "The bond that guys have from going to the same school is just enormous. We know we shared similar experiences so I wanted to show him the ropes."
Verner is still grateful for Ball's guidance.
"I knew who he was having been a UCLA fan, but when he took me under his wing, it meant a lot," the rookie Verner said. "Since that moment, he's been a mentor to me. We speak a lot about what a player needs to do to have success in the NFL."
So far, so good. After replacing inured cornerback Jason McCourtney (who will be out up to nine weeks), Verner recorded six tackles and recovered a fumble in the Titans' 29-10 win over the Giants on September 26. With an increased role on the Titans defense, he has helped lift the team's pass defense to third in the AFC and fifth overall in the NFL. He is slated to start on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
While his role with the Titans has him plenty busy, Verner has still had time to pay attention to UCLA. After stumbling to an 0-2 start, Verner reached out to the Bruins to offer guidance.
"There are always going to be downs in college and in life, but it's how you respond," Verner said. "I told them to keep fighting, what's done is done, but you have to believe there's still an opportunity to do great things."
"Next thing I know, the guys put up two great wins in a row [against Houston and Texas]. Obviously I take no credit for that, but it's important to me, as a Bruin, to help the younger guys understand the importance of battling and never giving up," Verner said.
Now with UCLA back to playing .500 football, Verner, along with the rest of Bruin nation, is looking for more.
"The goal is to work towards a 10-2 record with an eye on getting to the Rose Bowl," he said. "Defensively, we're showing tremendous improvement with All-Americans Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore. The cornerbacks are real fast and we've also got some experienced safeties. We're getting back to playing Bruins football the way it's meant to be played."
After postgame interviews in New York, he got in line with his teammates to board the team bus. Most players carried expensive leather travel bags, but Verner had his UCLA college backpack snug on his back. He laughed and pulled the straps tight.
"Gotta' represent the blue and gold at all times."
For Alterraun Verner, once a Bruin, always a Bruin.