Jason Verrett perseveres with the TCU Horned Frogs

Posted Monday, Dec. 24, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Jason Verrett was embarrassed, frustrated and in tears.

His confidence was shot, his head was swirling with second-guesses and he was telling friends and family that he was through.

Through with TCU, through with Fort Worth. He was ready to bail on his childhood dream of playing big-time college football.

He wanted to leave TCU, head back home to California and forget he had ever become a Horned Frog in the first place.

All this anguish was occurring minutes after TCU lost the 2011 season opener at Baylor, 50-48. The eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, and All-America receivers Kendall Wright and Terrence Williams had torched the Frogs' defense for six touchdown passes, including three at the expense of Verrett, who was playing in his first game after transferring from Santa Rosa Junior College.

He was humiliated and wondering if he had made a huge mistake. This was supposed to be the night Verrett showed a national ESPN audience that his talents had been overlooked out of Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, Calif., and that his decision to transfer to TCU over Boise State, San Jose State and UTEP validated his abilities.

Instead, his inexperience was exposed in the game's first two minutes. Baylor surprised TCU with a double pass as Verrett forgot his assignment and went after the passer and the Bears scored easily on a 40-yard touchdown pass.

Verrett wasn't the only TCU defender to get beat that night. Greg McCoy, Kevin White and others were all given a preview of RG3's All-America season. By the end of the year the college football world saw Baylor's high-flying offense burn defenses with regularity.

A year later, however, Verrett is an All-American, a first-team All-Big 12 player and the only player in the nation in the top 10 in interceptions and passes defended.

He leads the Big 12 in both categories and his six interceptions is the most by a TCU player since Jason Goss had eight in 2002. Verrett's postseason accolades have piled up and his NFL draft stock has risen, but the junior is just a season removed from wanting to quit.

'Come on now, Jay'

Going into that opener in Waco, RG3 was respected, but he hadn't yet become the phenomenon of 2011.

Verrett didn't know that. No one knew that. For all he knew, the rest of the season was going to be filled with him chasing receivers from behind as they ran into the end zone.

He was inconsolable after the game. He wanted to quit and first called his dad from the team bus as it headed back to Fort Worth. Warren Verrett wasn't having any of it.

"You've got to man up, son," he said.

Verrett hung up and called Mom.

"Of course you're going to call Mom because she's going to be the one who's going to listen," Jason said. "She was crying because she's hearing me upset. She just kept telling me to be strong and you'll be all right."

Long before she received the phone call, Cynthia Verrett's stomach was tied in knots for Jason, her youngest son, her baby boy. She watched him from the stands that night sitting despondently on the bench as TCU coach Gary Patterson ripped into his defense.

"I'll never forget the expression on his face; he was looking up like a puppy, like 'What am I going to do?'" his mom said. "When your child is hurting, you're hurting. At that point, I kind of had to put being mom aside and be more encouraging but still supportive. It was hard for me because I could hear in his voice that he really wanted to come home; he was upset. So I was kind of torn because I don't like to see him be unhappy, but at the same time, I also felt it was time for him to grow up. He had to take responsibility and he couldn't give up."

That night Verrett also confided in his older brother, Tre, and his coach from Santa Rosa, Lenny Wagner, who helped direct him toward TCU. Wagner played for Patterson at Sonoma State in the early 1990s and when Verrett was getting noticed as a potential transfer recruit in the summer of 2010, Wagner told the Verretts that, if it was his son, he'd choose TCU.

Verrett could hear Wagner laugh when he told his former coach he wanted to quit.

"Come on now, Jay," Wagner told him. "That's not going to happen."

Overcoming obstacles

The next day, Verrett walked into Patterson's office to tell him he wanted to leave. Before Verrett could say anything Patterson told him he needed to grow up.

"Great corners have to handle adversity," Patterson told him. "You're a good player, but games like that, you've got to handle it. If you walk away from it, that's how you're going to look at life. If you come across struggles and you try to walk away from it, how are you going to grow?"

Still, Verrett's desire to bail was not budging. Receiver Josh Boyce, who had seen firsthand Verrett's abilities in one-on-one competition during spring and summer workouts, was the first teammate to offer some encouragement the next day.

"Man, you're going to be all right," Boyce said as the two walked from the locker room to a team meeting. "Don't worry about it."

But Jason didn't start the next week at Air Force and hardly got on the field.

"It was pretty devastating," Verrett said. "That also was a learning experience. Am I going to grind or am I going to sit here and just be on the bench? My parents were telling me to keep my head up and focus."

Then Tre, who is 23 and two years older than Jason, decided to fly in for the third game of the season against Louisiana-Monroe. Jason had a good week of practice and his best friend and brother was in town to help him resurrect his confidence.

After the debacle at Baylor, Tre had been brought to tears during a phone conversation.

"He called me crying, saying, 'I can't do this no more,'" Tre said. "I started crying myself. I was more mad than sad. I was upset because we were always raised that Verretts don't quit no matter what.

"God put obstacles in your way that he knows you can overcome," Tre told his brother. "God put you in this situation because he knows you can get past it, so stop crying and do your responsibility."

Tre reminded him that he was playing against two potential first-round draft picks and that TCU coaches thought he was good enough to offer him a scholarship.

"You're not going to go against those types of players all year long," he said. "Coach P put you on the field for a reason. Obviously, he felt you could get the job done. Physically, you're able to run with anybody on the field but mentally, you're not there. Mentally, you need to get stronger and that will make you a better player."

Jason wasn't just struggling with football. For the first time in his life he was far away from friends and family and he was desperately homesick. Tre could relate. He went through the same emotions early when he went to school at Winston-Salem State in North Carolina.

"I know how he felt," he said. "You just feel alone and you just need some type of comfort. Their next game was homecoming so I said, 'Let's do homecoming together.'"

Tre flew in from California for the Louisiana-Monroe game. Jason played well and earned his starting job back for the rest of the season.

"Tre's attitude was: 'I'm not going to let him do this,'" Cynthia Verrett said. "He said the best thing for me to do is to fly down there. That was really the turning point. I was really proud of Tre for taking on that responsibility."

Reaping the rewards

Verrett ended up leaving the misery of that first game in the rearview mirror and turned in a solid sophomore season, finishing with 58 tackles, the most of any returning player.

Patterson hailed Verrett's play during the spring and summer and Verrett took the momentum into the 2012 season. He had four pass breakups at Kansas and snagged two interceptions against SMU.

Each week he went head-to-head against the opponent's top receiver and shut him down. West Virginia's Stedman Bailey was held to two catches for 30 yards in a double-overtime game TCU won after Verrett blocked the Mountaineers' field-goal attempt in the first overtime.

Oklahoma's Kenny Stills was held to two catches for 16 yards. Verrett leads the Big 12 with 14 pass breakups and six interceptions. He has been selected to four All-America teams.

"It's a great honor, but I'm not really soaking it in too much," Verrett said. "I'm kind of focused on finishing off against Michigan State. I'm happy with my accomplishments. Hats off to all my teammates, especially the D-line because you know without them none of that would be happening."

The ordeal was a life lesson for Verrett, something that he can look upon now and appreciate. Even with all the success, Verrett remains his own worst critic. He was still regretting a crucial third-down conversion that Stills converted against him three weeks later.

"He caught a back shoulder fade on third-and-3," Verrett said. "That kind of triggered me after the game to think what I could have done better to make a play, to get that pass broken up or intercept the ball. There's always something else you can do. So when I make great plays I remember them, but after the game I always remember the plays I should have made or could have made.

"I'm pretty sure that's how athletes think and I know that's how Coach P thinks. He keeps his players humble. When I make great plays I'm happy for my teammates and happy to get back in the huddle."

Warren and Cynthia Verrett's joy for their son goes beyond his success on the field. He's close to earning his degree in communications and his perseverance has been an inspiration.

"Sometimes I feel like: 'Wow, is that really my son?' Just watching some of the things he does on the field," Cynthia Verrett said. "It's pretty amazing. It's an awesome feeling, which is really hard to describe. I don't think words can express how proud I am of him. The growth and maturity he has shown over the last year has just been phenomenal."

Stefan Stevenson

817-390-7760

Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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