Here is a story I wrote on Alterraun Verner during the 2006 season.
AN ADVANCED STUDY
PLAYING IT SMART
VERNER LEARNING ON THE FIELD WHILE EXCELLING IN THE CLASSROOM
Author: BRIAN DOHN
After UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner punctuated his strong debut with an interception return for a touchdown, teammates, coaches and even pundits remarked how he didn’t act like a freshman.
There is a reason for that — he is barely a freshman. In fact, by the time the Bruins play in a bowl game, as long as they qualify, Verner will be a sophomore.
We’re not talking athletically, an area in which the talented Verner is as green as the Rose Bowl turf. We’re talking academically. Verner is so advanced that he entered his first fall training camp with 36 credits (28 from high school), the number most UCLA freshmen accrue in their first full year.
In the world of big-time college athletics, where taking one ballroom dancing class makes a player eligible by NCAA standards, there is room for a kid like Verner.
“He’s the kind of guy who could be the mayor of Los Angeles one day,” UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. “He’s a different guy. He’s on a different planet with that stuff.”
Bruins coach Karl Dorrell compared Verner to Cormac Carney, UCLA’s all-time leading receiver when he left after the 1982 season. Carney is a member of the academic All-America Hall of Fame and a U.S. District Court Judge in Orange County.
“He’s got a chance to be our next guy to do it on the field and off the field,” Dorrell said. “He’ll graduate early and he’ll be in whatever he wants to be in, law school or anything else he wants to do.”
Verner didn’t reach his academic standing by manipulating the system, or by attending a prep school so he could mature academically or athletically. He’s 17 years old, and does not turn 18 until Dec. 13, making him the youngest active player in the Pacific-10 Conference.
At Mayfair High of Lakewood, Verner took advanced placement English and U.S. history classes as a junior, and advanced placement chemistry and calculus as a senior.
Verner scored 5 out of 5 on his AP calculus exam, had a 4.16 grade-point average on a scale of 4.0 (AP classes are weighted) and tutored his peers.
On several occasions, he spoke to players in his former youth football program, the Carson Colts, about the importance staying in school and getting an education. All this while being one of the top prep defensive backs in the West.
“I always volunteer my time because, to me, if they’re willing to get help, then that means they really care about studying,” Verner said. “So why wouldn’t I want to take the time and effort to help somebody that is that driven?”
History is the choice of major for most his teammates, but Verner plans to major in math and applied sciences. He is thinking about medical school after football, and seems more concerned about a Ph.D than YAC (yards after catch).
Whereas many of his teammates love playing video games, Verner would rather make one. While enrolled in the art academy program at Mayfair, Verner developed an affinity for computer graphics and dabbled in sports animation.
“When he was little, he was the baddest kid you’d ever seen,” Verner’s father, Robert, said. “When he was 3 years old, I picked him up in the principal’s office every day. He wasn’t being challenged, so we put him in kindergarten when he was 4 years old. He never got a B until his freshman year (at Mayfair), and that was because he changed teachers.”
Education always came first in the Verner household. His parents, Robert and Vicki, both graduated from Long Beach State. His sisters, Robin and Shawn, graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills and Mount St. Mary’s, respectively.
But there was time for sports. In the fall, it was football, and in the winter Verner played basketball his first three years at Mayfair. Spring was reserved for running track, in which he competed in everything from hurdles to high jump to pole vault.
Commitment and discipline are also staples of Verner’s character. He normally arrived home from his sport du jour practice at 7p.m. and ate dinner. Then, it was homework until 11p.m. before a midnight bedtime.
Mayfair was 18 minutes from his home, and his first class began at 6:15 a.m.
“I had to make a lot of sacrifices,” Verner said. “I would say I had fun, but it was limited. I guess you could say it was overwhelming at times, but I wouldn’t trade it.”
So how does this all relate to football?
“I think it translates perfectly,” Dorrell said. “How does a freshman pick up things as quickly as he has? He’s able to move along at the pace all the other older guys are able to move along, which most freshmen aren’t able to do.”
Through conversations during the summer, Walker, who doubles as Verner’s position coach, quickly recognized Verner’s ability to learn UCLA’s defensive system.
By the end of training camp, Walker was so impressed with Verner, he turned into a prognosticator.
“I predicted he would get an interception (against Utah),” Walker said.
Less than 30 minutes into Verner’s first game, he did his coach proud. Verner stepped in front of Utah receiver Marquis Wilson along the sideline and intercepted Tommy Grady’s pass. From there, it was a straight line to the end zone to give UCLA a 14-7 lead. Verner also made two tackles, forced and recovered a fumble and is one of the Bruins’ kickoff returners.
“The retention to where he’s able to remember and pick up and digest it the first and second time you show it to him is remarkable,” Walker said. “He’s a smart guy and he asks intelligent questions. I didn’t worry about him one bit. He was one of the guys I worried the least about.”