Hauling in a pair of interceptions in the first two games of his career, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III raised his already-high expectations basically the very moment he stepped on the field as a freshman for the Florida Gators.
A five-star recruit, he may have started that first game had Florida not had three NFL-caliber corners returning, but he basically outplayed each of them as the season went on and wound up as a first-stringer for the final 10 games of the campaign.
His 11 pass breakups tied Janoris Jenkins for most by a freshman in school history, and his lockdown defense made him a national name in no time at all.
As a result, Hargreaves was named a third-team Associated Press All-American, first-team Freshman All-American by a number of organizations and got chosen unanimously to the first-team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman teams.
To him though, it was all a blur.
“My first year was kind of fast. It went fast. I had to learn quick cause they told me I was going to play early. But I enjoyed it, it was fun. Had a lot of great guys behind me showing me the ropes. I enjoyed it,” he said.
“All that [award] stuff, it was good. I guess I was proud of myself for it, but I’d much rather win games than have all of that stuff for myself.”
Hargreaves obviously holds himself up to a higher standard. That will happen when your father is a veteran coach and you grew up around top-tier NFL talent that helped shape your work ethic and perspective on the sport of football.
“I’ve been around football since I can remember,” he explained. “My dad coached at Miami, I was around all of those great players in the NFL – Ed Reed, Sean Taylor – I was around all of them. I remember how hard they used to work and how hard they competed, so I kind of took that from them.”
Therefore, Hargreaves evaluated his freshman season as “OK,” noting that he can improve in a number of areas. Specifically, he wants to become a better leader as he has already noticed a number of freshmen looking up to him for assistance.
“I’m still learning how to take that older brother role. It’s a process,” he said.
Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin believes Hargreaves kick-started that process with his work ethic and can now build upon that base going forward.
“Vernon really as a freshman had some leadership abilities and qualities that everyone knew and stood out. He just has that about him,” he said. “It’s good anytime your top players handle themselves off the field and handle themselves the right way. That’s great for your team and defense in this case, so naturally, he’s got that about him. He embraces it and does a great job bringing those guys along. He’s approachable and helps those guys. He’s great for our defense, and we’re lucky to have him.”
Two of the players hoping Hargreaves can impart some of his knowledge both about the system and playing early are freshmen CBs Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor.
The duo is working hard in hopes of earning starting job opposite Hargreaves.
“It’s very competitive between Jalen and Duke. They’re going at it,” Hargreaves explained. “It’s kind of fun to watch, but I’m not sure how that will play out or how the coaches are looking at it. But from what I can see, it’s up in the air.”
Hargreaves, who said he doesn’t “think there’s any better place [than Florida]” to play defensive back, also offered some high praise for Gators redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who he has now been able to watch for two seasons.
If Driskel is giving Hargreaves any fits, that’s a pretty good sign for Florida’s offense.
“Jeff is a great player. I think he’s one of the best players in college football and doesn’t get the attention he deserves,” Hargreaves said. “He’s handling the offense like he’s been in it four years, and he just learned it this spring whenever Coach [Kurt] Roper came in. I’m excited for him this year.”
The Hargreaves vs. Driskel match-up will be one of many that fans can keep an eye on during Saturday’s spring game.
If Driskel can complete a number of passes against one of the top cornerbacks in the country, it could bode well for the Gators down the line…and knowing Hargreaves, it would only make him work harder and play better going forward.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports