WASHINGTON - Georgetown University football alum Bobby Vernon (B'93) has achieved more than most in the nearly 25 years since he graduated from the Hilltop. He has worked both in New York City and South America, founded and sold three companies, wrote a book, coached high school football with a focus for player safety and established a program to help his players further their education in college.
Vernon, a three-year teammate of GU Head Coach Rob Sgarlata, suited up for the Hoyas for four years, totaling 10 interceptions in 30 games in the defensive backfield, including a team-high four picks as a senior in 1992.
"Georgetown is an intimate school located in one of the capitals of the world." Vernon said. "Where else do you have the opportunity to develop those personal connections while, at the same time, sitting at the feet of the powers of the world? Those are the kind of things that Georgetown can do, not just for football players, but for everyone.
"My best friends today are still my Georgetown teammates. We still get together, without fail, at least once a year. We have helped each other in business and in personal situations and of course we have had a lot of fun together. To me, that's irreplaceable."
Academically, Vernon chose Georgetown because of its international program reputation, knowing that he wanted to eventually work abroad. He graduated from the Hilltop with a degree in international business in 1993.
"Back in the early 90s, globalization was really a new word and the idea of doing business internationally was trending. For me it was a great major in which I learned all of the finance, economics and accounting from the business school, but also got the languages, history and the diplomacy from the Walsh School of Foreign Service."
After traveling for a year following graduation and completing a working training program at American International Group (AIG) in New York, Vernon took a position at Reliance Group Holdings. He had always wanted to work abroad and they were looking for someone to run its South American region out of their office in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Following three years in South America and equipped with an MBA from Duke University's global executive program, Vernon moved to Miami to start a distribution company specifically aimed at the specialty financial insurance industry.
"My experience in New York gave me a lot of insight into how a more mature, frictionless market worked and, when I went to Latin America, I could see how behind they were in many ways. I thought if I setup in Miami, I could offer a new type of a distribution angle for the region. The proposition that I had was very well received and I started the company in 2000. That morphed into a software company called ProcessMaker that is still in existence today. I then launched a second company which I sold in 2008, and then a third one which I sold in 2015."
With more time on his hands, Vernon decided to get back into football and joined the staff of a local public high school in Miami. As a new coach back in 2008, he heard an NPR news program on the link between concussions and head injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Vernon decided that if he was going to coach, he would have to justify being involved with football. Before that happened, however, he started his third company in 2010 and left coaching.
"It was always there in the back of my mind. As I saw my oldest son growing up, I thought I'd love to get back into the game, but I needed to determine what my personal position was on concussions and head injuries and how or if I could defend the sport. When I sold my third company in 2015, I started writing. I really started researching and thinking about my experience as a coach and experiences I had with my own son, who had played a couple of seasons of Pop Warner."
Vernon turned his research into a book, publishing Tackling Dummies: Playing Amateur Football Smarter in 2016. The book, which offers an objective and insiders look at the sport and culture of amateur football, identifies key problems with the game and provides easy-to-understand solutions which helps both players and coaches perform better, play safer and have more fun.
"I found that the moniker heads up tackling is very impractical and potentially unsafe. I promoted this heads out tackling and it didn't take long for USA Football to contact me. They have since rolled out a completely new set of drills that bear a striking similarity to what I had produced a year earlier."
In 2014, Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks also began promoting the same rugby-style tackling technique to prevent head injuries. Carroll, whose defense has ranked among the best in the NFL over the past several seasons, teaches his players to lead with their shoulders when making a tackle and to hit opponents at their center of balance.
"I have been thinking and promoting the idea of rugby-style tackling in football since 2008 when I first began playing in a local rugby league, but when Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks started talking about it, everybody began listening. And that was such a great thing for the game and improving tackling. Not only has USA Football changed their drills, but they are coming out with a modified version of tackle football for younger kids. All of these things are good and necessary if we want the game to continue to grow." Vernon joined the Palmetto staff as a defensive backs coach in 2015, taking his research and translating it into success on the field. In the years leading up to his first season, Palmetto was averaging more than a dozen concussions per year and winning just a couple games each year. In 2016, two years after he implemented his tackling technique as well as helmetless drills, the Panthers finished 9-2 and had zero concussions.
"A lot of old-school, tough guys say you can't play football the way it is meant to be played, tough and physical, and be any good at it if you play it safely. We absolutely reject that idea and think the game can be played safely as well as at an extremely high level. Now we have some evidence."
Not only has Vernon been changing the team's fortunes on the field, but he has also been working to help his players in the classroom. For each of the past two years, he has taken those with a B average or higher on college tours at high-academic institutions with a football program, taking part in camps at Georgetown and the University of Pennsylvania while also visiting Lehigh and Lafayette.
"A lot of kids down here don't know about these colleges. If Miami or Florida State doesn't come knocking, they tend to think their options are done. For a lot of these kids all they think about is football. It is hard to get them to think about the other side of going to college -- meeting new people, learning new things and getting an education. One of the ways to get through to them is to actually get them onto a campus and have them talk to other people."
So far, Vernon has seen his college visits pay off. Both players he took the first summer are now playing college football -- one at Lake Forest College outside of Chicago and the other at Marist College in New York -- while a third player has received a full ride to Rensselaer Polytech Institute (RPI).
His work embodies one of the core principles that Sgarlata has established as the foundation for the GU football program -- 4 for 40. The principle is built on the concept that a four-year commitment to the football program leads to a 40-year relationship that builds personal, professional and career leadership.
"Football helped me get into Georgetown and obtain the education, the confidence and the platform to live the next 40 years -- as Rob says, 4 for 40 years -- the way I want to live."