Coming off his best season since being drafted, first time pro-bowler and UCLA Alumnus Alterraun Verner talked with Go Joe Bruin’s Associate Editor Ryan Tabb to discuss a multitude of topics, including not only UCLA and the NFL, but even favorite activities and foods. Verner, who just signed a four year, 26.5 million dollar contract with Tampa Bay, received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics after returning to UCLA during the 2011 NFL offseason. In 2010, prior to finishing his formal education, Verner was drafted by the Tennessee Titans. The former Rivals All-American was quite the steal, taken 4 rounds into the draft with the 104th overall pick (he was the 18th corner taken). As an educated player with experience in both college and the NFL, here is what the the AP second team All-Pro corner had to say. (The full transcript can be found here, and an audio recording can be listened to here. Also, please note that this is a polished version of the interview.)
Tabb: When I think of Alterraun Verner, I think of UCLA vs #12 Cal in your sophomore season. Cal is down 2, driving the field, at UCLA’s 30, and boom! You intercept the ball, you take it to the house, securing the win with just over a minute left. Do you remember that play? What was it like?
Verner: Yeah, I do. It was probably one of my more memorable individual accomplishments at UCLA. Cal’s team was #12 and before that they were actually #2 in the nation. They lost to Oregon State the week before so that’s why they were #12. They had a high powered offense and we were the underdogs. Just remembering them with the ball, we were only down two, and I’m thinking, you know, it’s third down and they’re probably gonna run the ball just to try to get into better field goal shape. I saw DeSean [Jackson] motion down, and they ended up passing the ball. We were in the perfect coverage for me to make a play on the ball. I remember catching it and just trying to run as fast as I could to the end zone — knowing that DeSean was going to be behind me and I knew how fast he is. I just scored and everything was a blur at that point, but being able to win the game and being able to beat such a good team and have that memory is something special that I definitely won’t forget.
Tabb: How do you feel that UCLA’s program in athletics or academics has prepared you for your NFL career?
Verner: I think it definitely prepared me. During my four years at UCLA we had a defensive coordinator that instilled a pro-style defense. The calls, the checks, and a lot of of other things that we had to be aware of carried into the NFL, so it wasn’t a big adjustment or learning curve. He threw a lot at me, and I learned a lot from it. Our coach tried to give us many responsibilities when I was at UCLA, so from a mental standpoint they prepared me very well. As for the physical aspect, I played against a lot of the top talent while at UCLA, so I think that prepared me very well for what I was going to see in the NFL. It prepared me for going against guys like DeSean Jackson and running backs like [Chris] Johnson in practice, [Jonathan] Stewart, and all these other guys were the top players in the NFL and back in college.
Tabb: So UCLA just finished their second season under head coach Jim Mora, and they’re really picking up the program. Do you have a favorite moment from their past football season? Maybe a favorite player to watch?
Verner: Obviously beating USC was a memorable moment, then UCLA’s comeback against Nebraska. I have three people to watch though. On offense, I would always want to see how Brett Hundley was going to play. Defensively, though I liked a lot of players, I would say Anthony Barr was somebody I was expecting big things from every game, but Myles Jack was my wild card and probably my favorite player to watch.
Tabb: So the rules committee of the NCAA recently shut down the a proposed rule change that would slow down offenses, but as a defender how do you feel about up-tempo offensives? Are you okay with them? Do you like playing them?
Verner: When you play up-tempo offenses it’s challenging because you have to get your rest you have to try to get the play calls and things like that, so it’s very difficult. It’s hard because they make you make faster decisions. That’s what an up-tempo offense gives you. It doesn’t give you time to think. It’s definitely more difficult but I wouldn’t say that it’s unbeatable. I think it makes the game more fun and more of a challenge. Nobody wants the game to be easy all the time. So I have no problem with up-tempo offenses.
Tabb: So now on to the NFL a little bit. You’re a Pro-Bowl cornerback, you’re coming out of free agency, you just signed with Tampa Bay. What was that whole process like, elevating your game such as high level and having people taking notice; not to mention being courted by all those teams?
Verner: It was a very exciting and unexpected turn. I think I played pretty well the past couple seasons, so just having people notice was definitely surprising to me because I never really had that type of response or respect in all of my years playing. I, myself, thought I was always at the same level as the other guys. I never really had a problem with it, but it was definitely a really interesting phase. Somehow I never thought that it would actually be me going to the pro-bowls and things of that nature so it was truly a blessing of an experience. I developed a lot of respect with my peers and my coaches. They even said “Go represent the team”. I definitely enjoyed playing in the pro-bowl. It gave me another perspective about how much work it takes to get there and it’s one of those things that you don’t want just once. I want to make it a routine so I want to keep on working and try to get there again and again. Being courted, like you said kind of reminded me of the draft all over again. Talking with different teams was and being analyzed. The only difference was that I got to choose which team I wanted to sign with, whereas in the draft I had to sign with the team that ultimately selected me. So other than that it was very similar to the draft, although at times it was very nerve wracking especially because I didn’t know where I was going to be playing. I think everything happened for a reason and it ended up the way it was supposed to.
Tabb: On that note about comparing it to the draft and the ability to choose your landing spot, you decided to sign with Tampa Bay for four years and $26.5 million. Why did you choose Tampa Bay? What stuck out about them?
Verner: A lot of things. The whole atmosphere, the team, they have a great coach from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve noticed over the years, just being a football fan. Before I was even in the NFL I had a lot of respect for a guy like that. Them just wanting me as a football player really made me feel like I could be part of the team. Also the location, where Tampa is for me and my family, to look at the roster and seeing that they have a lot of talent there. I feel like they can compete right now and we could win not only division titles, but also make noise in the playoffs. So all of it was just factored in to joining Tampa Bay and it was just the ideal fit in almost every aspect and that’s what makes me even more excited to get started.
Tabb: Was there a player that, as you were growing up, you modeled your technique after? A current or former player?
Verner: I wouldn’t say necessarily one player. I think the person who I followed most growing up was Jerry Rice. It was hard to model my game after a receiver, but I liked his work, what he brought to the game, and how he was never content being good. He always was pushing to be the best, even when he was pushing 40 years old. His work ethic and his drive to prove himself every day led me to follow him. I didn’t really follow too many corners but if I had to pick one I would say Charles Woodson. He was definitely a play-maker.
Tabb: How have the NFL’s rule changes affected your style of play? Have they really changed the way you play the game?
Verner: They really haven’t done anything to me. I never been just a “straight banger”, so it really never changed my play in any way. I’m more of a wrap-up kind of guy, and I don’t go for too many kill shots. So it didn’t really change me at all. It probably impacted safeties more.
Tabb: What do you think of the Pro Bowl? Do you think it’s good for the league to have it every year? People say, “Oh this isn’t worth it”, but after being there do you think it’s worth working pretty hard to put on every year?
Verner: Oh, no question. I think that it’s definitely worth playing in and it was justified this year because the game was played a lot harder this time around. I think they they got what they wanted, but in prior Pro-Bowls you can kind of tell that there was a lack of effort.
Tabb: There’s a lot of speculation about whether or not the NFL is ready to have the gay player — in this case, Michael Sam. Most people take situation well, and it seems like the NFL is ready for it. As a player, do you think that the league and the players in the league are ready to embrace it in the locker room?
Verner: I don’t think much is going to be going on. I think the best thing I have heard from other people about that situation is that the only thing that’s going to be frustrating is going to be the media trying to over-hype the situation, you know? Most players would say, “You know, we’re okay with it because it is what it is”. For me, I mean, if someone comes in and tries to help the football games, why would it really matter? The way I look at it, he is the first open one, but someone’s been on a team that’s been like that and they just haven’t said anything. So if you didn’t know and you have been able to do everything you already do, but around them, it wouldn’t make too much of a difference just to know. All of his teammates in Missouri have already said that he’s a cool guy. A guy played with last year was drafted from Missouri he said, “We knew that he was gay. We all knew, and we were all cool with it.” If a team picks him up, they picked him up because he’s a good football player and they want to try to win with him.
(This, by the way, was great to hear from someone who is actually a part of an NFL locker room atmosphere.)
Though Verner was the AFC’s co-leader in interceptions last season, his aspirations and drive to improve assure more interesting seasons to come. It is clear that Jerry Rice’s determination has inspired Alterraun Verner to strive to be his best, as well. Be sure to keep an eye on this elite talent, and stay posted with more news, interviews, and analysis from us here at GoJoeBruin.com and Fansided.com.