Oct. 29, 2008
By Mike Leary
UCLA Sports Information Assistant
With 1:33 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, the ball on the Bruins' 30-yard line and UCLA leading 23-21, Cal quarterback Nate Longshore dropped back to pass. He scanned the field and threw the ball to his go-to receiver, DeSean Jackson.
It was then that Alterraun Verner intercepted his second pass of the game and took it 76 yards for the game-clinching touchdown, establishing himself as one of the top corners in the Pac-10 Conference. Some people may call it just a good play, but somehow Verner finds a way to step up his game when he's most needed.
Verner arrived on the UCLA campus in 2006 as a 17-year old kid, excited about fulfilling a dream to play for his favorite childhood team.
"I remember being a UCLA fan," Verner says. "I grew to like it (UCLA) throughout middle school because I knew it was a great academic institution and they were competitive in football. They had some of my favorite players, like DeShaun Foster, Skip Hicks, and Cade McNown. It's always been my top school."
Little did he know that he would be given the opportunity to play right away. In his first game against Utah, he caused two turnovers, including a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, making him the first true freshman at UCLA to return an interception for a touchdown since Carlton Gray in 1989.
In the upset of second-ranked USC that year, he came up large again, as he combined with linebacker Christian Taylor on a key fourth down stop in the fourth quarter. He finished the year with 59 tackles, two interceptions and a pair of touchdowns.
"In the beginning, I was excited to be here on the team," states Verner. "Then being able to play in the first game, I was on a high, just living the life. Later on that season, it kind of struck me that every play in the game is important. I have to play well for us to win. I can't slack off on this play, or I can't get beat on this play, because I'm helping the success of this team. I didn't really feel increased pressure or anything, but just the realization that you can't just sit back and relax; that this is serious and I've got to go play."
It was that kind of attitude that earned Verner first-team Freshman All-America honora by collegefootballnews.com, co-winner of UCLA's John Boncheff, Jr. Memorial Award for Rookie of the Year, and co-Freshman of the Year for the Pac-10 in 2006.
Although 2007 ended up being a tough year for the Bruin football team, Verner continued to fight through the adversity of the season and played well.
"Mistakes to me are a good thing because they give you something to build on and something to grow on," Verner says. "When you hit those bumps, you just have to get up and continue on the journey. Adversity is making us grow as a team, and that's why we keep a positive attitude."
He finished the 2007 season as an All Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection and ranked 11th in the NCAA in passes deflected. Verner also earned Pac-10 All-Academic first team honors and was a part of the first-team Academic All-America All-District VIII team, proving that his accolades are not strictly limited to the football field.
This season looks promising for him. He already has two interceptions and has established himself as the leader of the secondary. There is also no sign of stopping Verner as he continues to work hard every day to make himself a better football player.
"I like to go out there and play and just react," he says. "No matter what anybody is saying about me, no matter what's going on, I'm just going to keep on working every day until there is no more me. I'm going to let my play and my actions speak for myself."