Former West Orange High star defensive end Corey Vereen is preparing to play his last game as a Tennessee Volunteer Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl against Nebraska.
Corey Vereen still can remember what it felt like the first time he took the field at Neyland Stadium.
It was the fall of 2013, and after recovering from an injury during fall camp for the University of Tennessee football team, the Winter Garden native and defensive end had gotten his first taste of college action a week earlier in a road game at Florida.
Vereen never will forget coming home to Neyland Stadium in front of 87,000 fans and entering the game for the first time.
“It was electric — there’s nothing like it,” Vereen said. “Coming from (high school crowds at) West Orange, it was a complete culture shock.”
It wouldn’t be until a week later, again at home against Georgia, that Vereen recorded his first college tackles — including his first sack and a tackle for a loss. Those, as it turns out, would be the first of many for a collegiate career in which Vereen became a leader and an integral part of the Volunteers’ defensive unit.
That career, which could well earn Vereen a shot at playing on Sundays, will come to an end Dec. 30, when he and his teammates take on Nebraska in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
“It hasn’t really set in, yet,” Vereen said. “I’m sure it will set in more once I actually play and it’s done and everything. Right now, it hasn’t really hit me yet.”
The game against the Cornhuskers will end a season of ups and downs for Vereen and the Volunteers. After surviving a scare in overtime from Appalachian State in the first game of the season, Tennessee had gotten hot — the Volunteers won four consecutive games, including huge wins against Florida and Georgia.
A trio of losses would follow, though, dashing any hopes Tennessee had of making the four-team College Football Playoff, but Vereen said he is still proud of the way he and his teammates persevered — winning three of their final four games.
“We stayed the course and we followed through,” Vereen said.
Vereen, who is studying computer science and would like to one day get his master’s degree and work in the video-game industry, is on track to graduate this spring. That will put him a semester behind his longtime girlfriend, another West Orange alum, who just happens to be a student at the University of Florida — a fact that makes for some short conversations in the days leading up to the annual rivalry game each fall.
“It’s good — going back-and-forth and everything,” Vereen said of the trash-talking the couple enjoys around that time of year. “(Going forward) we’ll be a house divided when it comes down to the fourth game of the Tennessee schedule. It kind of is what it is.”
Although Vereen did not play for current West Orange head coach Bob Head (Head’s first season came right after Vereen graduated in the spring of 2013), the two have a good relationship. The famed alumnus comes back when he can to hang out around the program and talk to its current players.
Since Vereen graduated, the program has had three of its best seasons ever, and several players have gone on to play Division I football — something that was more of a rarity when he inked a National Letter of Intent to join the Volunteers in 2013.
“When I was there, there was nobody going to DI schools to play football,” Vereen recalled. “It was kind of far-fetched for a while.”
And although different NFL Draft sites and services have Vereen ranked at different places, he said — for now, at least — he is focused on enjoying one last game wearing Tennessee Orange.
“I just want to go hard,” Vereen said of the bowl game. “I’m just trying to get a win, man.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].