When it comes to the Slippery Rock football team, 2019 is a year that has been talked about since it ended. The success on the field was unlike anything The Rock football program had experienced before. In the middle of it all was Tim Vernick.
“Words can’t describe [how much he’s meant to me], guys like him don’t just come around,” Coach Shaun Lutz said. “He’s a coach’s player and a captain, and when you have a leader like him they police it themselves, the best teams are when the players take control of anything that comes your way.”
Vernick comes from just a few miles down the road, where he played for Butler Area High School. Coming to Slippery Rock, Vernick felt that he didn’t know what he should have when walking in here. As a result, he felt he was behind when he first joined, and in 2016, he was redshirted.
“[My redshirt year] was huge for me, they taught me really what college football was all about that year,” Vernick said. “I got a whole year to practice and get better in what they needed me to do, and honestly getting redshirted was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me.”
Coming out of his redshirt year, Vernick was finally ready to get on the field and play in an actual college game for the first time. Vernick stepped on the field for The Rock in Frankfort, Kentucky. The Green and White faced off against Kentucky State University and in that game Vernick was able to make his mark. He totaled ten tackles and a sack in his first collegiate game, that ended in a 42-21 victory.
“2017 was a learning year and my realization was our first game against Kentucky State, I ended up with ten tackles and a sack, and after that game that’s when I realized I can play at this level and I can do the things I need to do,” Vernick said.
Vernick faced another setback that season only one week later, when he went down with an injury. The injury kept him sidelined for three weeks, but he eventually made his return against California (Pa.). In that game, he recorded his first career interception. In total he ended the season with 28 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception, and a sack.
“[My 2018 season] was a big step for me, it’s when I finally felt comfortable with what I was doing and everything else that was going on,” Vernick said. “It felt good to stay healthy and go out and play every game, and it’s just something I’ve been looking to build off of since.”
Vernick had his breakout year in the 2018 season. For some people, it’s limited to a game where they break out, but after every game, Vernick just kept topping the last. He became a large part in the success of the team. He started all 14 games and one week was even named PSAC West Defensive Athlete of the Week. Vernick totaled 92 tackles, including 13 being tackles for loss. It doesn’t come as a surprise that as Vernick developed, so did the team.
The Rock had their first deep playoff run that same year. Slippery Rock made it to the PSAC Championship where they lost against No. 9 West Chester University 33-10. That wasn’t the end of the season though. The next week, Vernick played in his first ever playoff game at any level against Long Island University and in the game, he had eight tackles and a sack. The Rock’s season came to an end two weeks later in a close game against Notre Dame College.
“I really liked experiencing playoffs, it was the first time in my life I was able to do that and losing to Notre Dame just made me want it even more and it made me want to work even harder so that we wouldn’t lose those big games deep in the playoffs,” Vernick said.
Vernick and the team came back the next year and did what they did in 2018, but even better. The team went undefeated throughout the regular season and this time was able to win the PSAC Championship behind Roland Rivers and company. The Rock even got their redemption against Notre Dame College, this time with a home field advantage. And one year and six days later, the Rock pulled out a win against the same team they lost to by three points.
The Rock was able to make it to the national semifinals against Minnesota State, where they would eventually lose their first game of the season. The Rock dropped the game 58-15, and before their season opener in 2021 against Wayne State University, they had not been on the field since.
“That loss against Minnesota State was definitely a heartbreaker, because we felt we had the better team and talent to win a national championship,” Vernick said. “That gave us some perspective, it showed us that no matter what we think it may not be what reality has.”
After the 2019 season, The Rock’s expectations for themselves went even higher. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything became uncertain after the season was canceled. However, in the offseason of this past year, many veterans told the team that they would be returning and among those players was Vernick.
“[Coming back for this season] was a tough thing to think about, I knew I wanted to get my masters and with COVID canceling our senior year it made us think about what we wanted to do,” Vernick said. “I can speak for the other seniors when I say, we wanted to finish what we started though.”
Now, The Rock is back on the field, and Vernick is one of the captains of the defensive team that made a big stop at their goal line to secure their first win of the season. The goal remains simple for Vernick and the rest of the team.
“We’re expecting a national championship, we were so close in 2019 and honestly we failed. We failed on the biggest stage,” Vernick said. “We have a veteran group coming back and we have all the pieces, we just have to work for it every day.”