Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer return to the studio to discuss all of Las Vegas' high school football teams a week before the start of the season.
Graeson Vereen is stuck playing high school sports in the wrong era.
In a day and age when most athletes specialize in one sport, Vereen bucks the trend — he plays football and basketball for Palo Verde High. And he’s one of the area’s top players in each sport.
Vereen, Palo Verde’s quarterback and a defensive back, headlines the Sun’s preseason all-city high school football team. The team takes 27 of Southern Nevada’s top players, including seven from five-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman and two from the lower Division I-A classification. Players are verbally committed to major colleges such as Notre Dame, UCLA and USC.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Vereen, who had five interceptions last fall to earn first-team all-Northwest League honors, took a different road to the all-city team than the others. While most spent the offseason going to camps to get noticed by recruiters and develop into better football players for the fall, Vereen was playing point guard at Palo Verde, and then during the spring and summer with his AAU team, Team Vegas.
The balancing act between the two sports might prove beneficial on Friday nights. Vereen will be a first-year starter at quarterback, gaining valuable leadership ability by playing both guard positions during elite basketball tournaments. Plus, high-level competition, regardless of the venue, is priceless.
“The kid’s a playmaker,” Palo Verde football coach Darwin Rost said. “He’s just an athlete. There is a lot of things he can do for us out of the backfield.”
Vereen still found time to make his way to the Palo Verde weight room, adding 15 pounds of bulk to his frame in anticipation of increased duties this fall. After playing just a handful of snaps last season at quarterback, Vereen faces the tough task of replacing a three-year starter. Parker Rost, the coach son, led Palo Verde to the state semifinals last year and is one of the program’s all-time best signal-callers.
They're difficult shoes to fill, especially when Vereen will be asked to continue being an all-league defensive back. He typically guards the other team’s best receiver and still managed 36 tackles last season.
“I know it’s going to be tough,” he said of playing both ways. “I can’t let a mistake on defense carry over to what we are trying to do on offense. Coach has told me to be myself and to just play. I can’t overthink things.”
Vereen comes from a family of accomplished athletes and is eager to add his name to the list. His uncle, Henry Vereen, starred at Clark in the 1970s before shining at UNLV. Henry’s two sons, Shane (New England Patriots) and Brock (Chicago Bears), are in the NFL.
Graeson Vereen has been to a few of Shane Vereen’s games with the Patriots and the cousins frequently exchanges text message with words of encouragement. Graeson Vereen even went to a training session with Shane Vereen in Southern California, getting to work out alongside other NFL players such as Taylor Mays and Clay Matthews.
Shane Vereen has made an impact in the NFL despite standing just 5-foot-10. Seeing the success has helped Graeson Vereen realize his potential. His recruiting interest for football has been slim, but then again, he’s still getting used to the idea of being a full-time football player. He only recently decided to pursue football at the next level but will still play basketball for Palo Verde in the winter.
“They are more than just great athletes. They are both very humble and both very smart,” Graeson Vereen said of his cousins.
Those are some of the same qualities spoken about Graeson Vereen in both sports.
Graeson Vereen and Clark’s Ty’Rek Wells are the lone players on the all-city team who also play basketball. Vereen averaged 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game for Team Vegas during a 44-game season, often arriving on game days exhausted from football training.
"He'd be drained from morning football practice. Just worn out," said Rich Thornton, the Team Vegas coach.
At most schools back in the day, when the football team was eliminated from the playoffs, athletes would arrive the next day to join the basketball team. Graeson Vereen will be one of the few, especially when it comes to top talent, making the trip this winter.
He wouldn’t change the journey. The experiences in each have helped him develop into one of the city’s best.
“The limelight doesn’t intimidate him at all,” Darwin Rost said. “He really thrives on competition.
Here’s the rest of the team:
About Christian: Lopez passed for 3,455 yards and 29 touchdowns and added eight rushing touchdowns in 2013 as a junior. He’s a three-year starter with the ability to carry Green Valley to the Sunrise Regional championship.
About Albert: Lake rushed for 676 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2013, adding 15 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively at cornerback, Lake had five interceptions. A three-year starter with elite speed, Lake won’t come off the field for Green Valley. Could be the Southeast League’s best all-round player.
About Zaviontay: Stevenson rushed for 1,203 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013, the most yards of any returning running back in Southern Nevada. An aggressive rusher who is tough to tackle, Stevenson also has breakaway speed to outrace the defense if he gets in the open field.
About Ty: Flanagan is arguably the best player in the Division I-A, averaging 11.06 yards per carry last season. He rushed for 1,183 yards and 14 touchdowns. Flanagan, who has a San Diego State scholarship offer, will be the best player on the field each Friday night.
About Cordell: A four-star recruiting prospect, Broadus caught 60 passes for 685 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013 for Diamond Bark High in California. Broadus, the son of the rapper Snoop Dogg, has speed to stretch the field and great hands. He’ll be fun to watch.
About Alize: The UCLA commit is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 tight end. Last year, he caught 35 passes for 571 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jones burst onto the scene as a sophomore with two touchdowns in the state championship game. He outran the Liberty defense for the first, and had a nifty catch in the end zone for second. He’s been living up to the hype since.
About Melvin: Johnson is a force on both sides of the line, being named second-team All-Northeast League in 2013 at offensive and defensive tackle. He has the athleticism of someone at a skilled position and the frame to add much bulk. He’ll still developing and could blossom into a star at the next level.
About Justin: Polu, an All-Northeast League selection in 2013, has multiple scholarships offers. He’s one of those players who will impact the game on every Friday. He’s a big, strong and physical blocker.
About Mitchell: Kissam was an All-Sunrise Region selection in 2013. He’s an experienced blocker at tackle who is still developing. The sky is the limit for the Silverado offense with Kissam and Polu anchoring the line.
About Malik: Arbor View is ranked No. 3 in the preseason and expected to post big-time numbers in its rushing attack. Noshi, an experienced blocker with a scholarship offer from Northern Arizona, will lead the charge. High-character kid who is praised for his leadership. One of the strongest players in the state.
About Mark Anthony: Gacutan, who will be a three-year starter, started to develop into a force at the end of last season. He’s got a scholarship offer from Weber State and recruiting interest from others. He’s a high-IQ player who is still developing a mean streak and has tremendous potential. Will combine with his twin, Mark Gil, to form one of the Southeast League’s top offensive lines.
About Zach: Mays, an all-Southwest League kicker in 2013, is rated as the nation’s No. 19 kicking recruit by Kohls Kicking. He was 3 of 6 on field goals last season and made 28 extra points. Mays will be a big-time weapon for Centennial. His kickoffs into the end zone will force the opposing offense to start at the 20. Offensively, he can make a field goal — a rarity for most Las Vegas-area kickers.
About DeMichael: With 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, Walker is one of Southern Nevada’s fastest players. Last year, he rushed for 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns. Don’t let Walker’s size fool you. Pound for pound, he’s the best player in Las Vegas. He’s is a threat to score each time he touches the ball.
About Elias: A three-year varsity performer, Miller enters his senior season with 14 rushing touchdowns. This year, he’ll likely double that figure as the Wildcats’ primary running back. He won’t come off the field, also starting at safety. Miller is a star in the making. He runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, has the frame to add much bulk and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Recruiters are starting to notice. He’s been offered by UNLV and BYU, and has drawn interest from big-time schools.
About Noah: The defensive end Jefferson, who is verbally committed to USC, has a rare combination of size and athleticism. He also caught 25 passes for 462 yards with five touchdowns in 2013 at tight end. The most well-put-together player in Las Vegas, Jefferson developed into a major-college prospect because of his athleticism. He’s a lean 285 pounds and easily moves around the field.
About Jackson: Perry is arguably the best two-way lineman in Las Vegas, receiving scholarship offers from the likes of UCLA and Nebraska. At right guard on offense and nose tackle on defense, Perry is a proven performer in big games and consistently one of five-time defending state champion Gorman’s best up front.
About Noah: A strong interior lineman, Tialavea had 51 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2013. He’s a three-year varsity performer. It’s going to be tough running on Bishop Gorman with Tialavea anchoring the defensive line.
About Ethan: Tuilagi will be a three-year starter and key contributor on both sides of the ball. Last year, he registered 64 tackles and four sacks. He also rushed for 509 yards and nine touchdowns. Arguably the most valuable player at four-time Sunrise Region champion Liberty, Tuilagi seems to always be near the action making significant plays.
About Jacob: A two-time preseason selection, Littlefield had 124 tackles and seven sacks in 2013 while being named a first-team All-Northeast League selection. With more than 200 career tackles, Littlefield is the best linebacker in the city. He’s always around the football, always making plays.
About Ty’Rek: Wells helped Clark reach the playoffs in 2013 for the first time in more than a decade. He also plays running back, rushing for 6.88 yards per carry and five touchdowns in limited carries. He also played a key role on Clark’s state championship basketball team. With size and speed, he’s arguably the best two-way player in the Division I-A. He’s an under-the-radar player who could play his way into a college scholarship.
About Jaren: Campbell had a solid 2013 to be named first-team all-Northwest League, registering 67 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and four sacks. He also rushed for 947 yards and six carries. He’s the best player on perennial power Palo Verde. Enough said.
About Nela: A two-time preseason all-city selection, Otukolo had 72 tackles and two sacks in 2013. He has nearly 10 scholarship offers, from the likes of Wyoming, Fresno State and Kent State. Otukolo is solid in defending the run. He’s one of those players who is always around the ball.
About Graeson: Had five interceptions and 36 tackles last season to earn first-team all-Northwest League honors. He’ll also start at quarterback. One of the area’s most underrated players, Vereen won’t come off the field for Palo Verde. Has the quickness and instincts to have a breakthrough season.
About Jabari: Butler, who has scholarship offers from Rice, Tulane and Wyoming, had 24 tackles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery in 2013. A lockdown defensive back with a quick first step, Butler’s big-play ability should come into play this fall.
About Nicco: Fertitta, who is verbally committed to Notre Dame, had 47 tackles and an interception in 2013. The three-star recruiting prospect is a four-year varsity player and two-year starter. Fertitta has a high football IQ and plays with a mean streak. He thrives on contact and excels in defending the run.
About Samuel: Had 81 tackles and seven interceptions in 2013 to earn all-Southwest League honors. He has a reputation for making the big play. Liaga is an aggressive, hard-hitting safety who some consider the best defender in the Sunset Region.
About Cory: Fisher averaged 40 yards per punt last season with a long of 60 yards. He’s more than a punter, also handling kickoff and field goal duties, and playing defensive back.