Justin Forsett a role model to Shane Vereen at Cal

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- While Justin Forsett was enjoying a strong senior season at the University of California back in 2007, a freshman by the name of Shane Vereen was closely watching.

Redshirting in his first year at the school, Vereen never took the field that season. Meanwhile, Forsett starred, leading the Pac-10 with 15 rushing touchdowns on his way to earning All-Pac-10 first-team honors.

Now, seven years later, Vereen, the New England Patriots' leading option at running back, is set to take the field opposite Forsett, the Baltimore Ravens' top rusher, in the AFC divisional playoffs on Saturday. Since their days at Cal, Vereen said Thursday that the two have remained close. He described Forsett as a role model during his college football days.

“I learned a lot from him,” Vereen said. “That was the first running back I think I looked up to in the college game. We’ve continued our relationship through there.”

While Vereen carved himself a role with the Patriots after being selected by them in the second round of the 2011 draft, things haven’t come as easy for Forsett. Selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round of the 2008 draft, Forsett was quickly put on waivers during his first season. He spent time with the Indianapolis Colts, returning to Seattle later that season and sticking around until 2011. After signing with the Houston Texans as a free agent in 2012, Forsett saw time as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013, getting only six rushing attempts in nine games before being put on waivers once again.

Signed by the Ravens prior to this season, Forsett finally broke out by rushing for 1,266 yards and scoring eight touchdowns.

“I’m very happy for him, he deserves it,” Vereen said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s a good runner. He showed it all season long.”

Despite Saturday’s impending matchup, Vereen said he and Forsett haven’t talked at any point this week. Instead, he’s opted to remain dialed in on the game and what the team will need to do in order to come out on top.

“As a team, you have to have more focus in this time,” Vereen said. “Everything is so much more crucial. You either do it now or you wait until next year to do it.”