McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

October 16, 2013

Verner keeps Buffs “centered”

By Matt Goisman
Sports Writer

McALESTER — When Mikey Verner made McAlester’s varsity as a junior last year, he found himself literally at the center of the action.

As the Buffs’ center on the offensive line, no play could take place without Verner first snapping the ball.

“I’m always nervous first snap, and then after the first snap I’m fine,” Verner said Tuesday.

“I just have to get my feet set right. Sometimes when I hurry and I don’t get my feet set correctly, I don’t have my hands set right.”

Verner has always lived in McAlester, going to preschool at Lakewood Christian, transferring to McAlester Public Schools for kindergarten and sticking with it all the way through to McAlester High School.

Verner said as a kid he’d always come watch the Buffs at Hook Eales on Fridays. His own football career began in the third grade with flag football.

“Me and Jarome (Smith), he was playing quarterback, and I was an eligible receiver and I was at center,” Verner said. “I caught a pass and made a touchdown in flag football.”

Verner has mostly been a lineman throughout his career. He spent a year as a fullback and “I loved running people over,” but by the time he got to high school, he’d converted back to a fulltime center.

It’s a demanding position, but Verner said he loves the responsibilities and leadership that come with it.

“Getting everybody lined up, getting splits right, calling out the defense, just pretty much making calls and telling people what to expect,” Verner said.

“I love it. I look it as, I’m pissed off every play. It should make you mad if (they) get a sack through us, and it should make you not want to let it happen again.”

McAlester’s other linemen have seemingly had no problem falling in line with Verner’s intensity. McAlester’s coaches must like too, as they made him a captain for this senior season.

“He kind of took off and played really well and kind of became a leader of that group last year,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said. “We were really pleased at the way he played, and obviously having him back this year is a huge plus for us.”

Playing center comes with a lot of physical contact, as a collision with at least one defensive lineman follows basically every snap of the ball. Proper footwork makes snapping easier, but it also makes playing that position safer.

Verner learned that lesson the hard way his sophomore year.

“I fractured my tibial plateau in my knee,” Verner said.

“It was in a JV game against Durant. I planted off my inside foot instead of my outside foot and it got rolled up. I was in (rehab) for six and a half, seven weeks.”

Verner worked his way back from that injury, returning to full strength for the start of spring ball his sophomore year. He made his varsity debut in the 2012 season-opener against Stillwater at Hook Eales.

He got his first “pancake” — a block that drives a defensive player into the ground — a week later against Booker T. Washington.

McAlester’s offensive line helped the 2012 Buffs become a dominant rushing team in which quarterback Caden Pratt alone compiled 2,800  all-purpose offensive yards. Caden and Verner are best friends off the field as well, spending their free time building trucks together.

“He’s with me every day, I’m with him every day,” Verner said of Caden. Verner added his dream car would be his father’s 1968 Chevrolet Camaro.

Already into Week 7 of his final season, Verner has just four games left before the playoffs, and just two at home. Like the rest of the Buffs, Verner said he hopes this season ends with a state championship.

After graduating McAlester High School, Verner said he plans to Northeastern State University in Tahlequah and try to walk onto the football team. The son of Big V Feeds vice president Mike Verner, Mikey said he plans to major in business at NSU or agricultural business if he instead attends Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa.

“It’s kind of a family-operated deal,” Verner said of Big V Feeds. “It’s just what I’ve been brought up around.”

With the help of Buffs offensive line coach Josh Nation, whom Verner called “like a second dad,” Verner said he’s improved most in his attitude and approach to the game.

Now with the right combination of physical skills and mental approach, Verner seems like the perfect choice to keep these 2013 Buffs centered and moving forward.

Contact Matt Goisman at mgoisman@mcalesternews.com.