DAVIE— The haze surrounding his jump to the NFL lifted one day while chewing on some lunch.
Olivier Vernon was sitting with Lamar Miller, the former Miami Hurricanes teammates seamlessly reunited as rookies with the Miami Dolphins.
Miller's presence made this new NFL world seem more real.
They represent the first Hurricanes taken by the Dolphins since Vernon Carey in 2004. They also symbolize hope for thousands of South Florida children strapping on football helmets for the first time hoping to find a similar path.
Vernon and Miller are home grown, their journey from the youth football fields to Coral Gables to the NFL never required a plan ticket.
And after a spring of progression that now comes with a pay check, they appear ready to seize the opportunity to make a lasting impact.
And Vernon now sees his path very clearly.
"It was crazy, we never really thought about that before," Vernon said of playing an entire football career in South Florida. "We never really thought it was gonna happen. ... We never would have thought we would have been where we are right now, but we're just enjoying it taking it in stride."
Vernon (6-2, 261 pounds) was picked in the third round (72 overall) in April's NFL draft, and brought in to compete at defensive end. The Dolphins were impressed with Vernon despite a six-game suspension to begin 2011 for receiving impermissible benefits. Vernon played the final six games for UM compiling 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Still in the infancy of his NFL career, Vernon hasn't backed down despite his rookie status.
During one minicamp drill last month, Vernon got into a scuffle with Dolphins star left tackle Jake Long — one Vernon dismissed as a heat-of-the-moment-type tangle.
"We're cool," Vernon said. "It's a battle. Everyone's always competing every day. You're trying to win one-on-ones. You're trying to get to the quarterback. The offensive line, they're trying to block. They're trying to get pancakes and stuff like that, but it's competition."
Vernon said he completed three years of college, and after a year to learn the daily routine of an NFL player he would like to one day to complete his degree in criminology.
Had the NFL not been an option, Vernon said he would likely have followed in the path of his father, Lascelles Vernon, who works for the Miami Beach Police Department.
"I would have probably been a cop or detective, something like that," Vernon said, "been on [The] First 48."
Vernon said his father often shares stories from traffic tickets to the few Vernon prefers not to detail in public.
The few life-and-death stories left an impression on Vernon, but not until he began to comprehend his own mortality.
That gave him a greater appreciation for his father's daily ritual of leaving the house for work.
"My dad really puts his life on the line, and risks his life every time he goes out there," Vernon said. "I started realizing that when I started getting older. Like, 'Damn, it could be the last time I see my dad when he goes to work.' I appreciate what he does, and what he does for our family."
Now Vernon has the chance to be a role model himself.
The Hurricanes and the community are no doubt keeping close tabs on Vernon and Miller, including Al Golden, the coach at the University of Miami.
"There's a lot of talented players on teams around the NFL," Golden said.
"But these are two talented players that are home grown, and have tremendous character. The combination of those three is what makes us unique, and we'll certainly benefit from it, the Miami Dolphins will benefit from it, but most importantly the fans.
"I think Dolphin fans will look back two years from now and say that they ended up with three first-round picks in Vernon, [Ryan] Tannehill and Miller. I think those two have tremendous upside, and potential and will go on to have great careers for the Dolphins."