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Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III fields questions during Monday's SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Monday July 14, 2014Hargreaves Talented, Mature Beyond His Years

Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III fields questions during Monday's SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

HOOVER, Ala. -- Vernon Hargreaves III was barely off the elevator at the Winfrey Hotel when the Florida sophomore cornerback was asked to evaluate teammate Jeff Driskel.

“I think he’s the best quarterback in the country,” Hargreaves said.

And it didn’t take long for that remark to make it’s way across the room to Driskel, who heard it and coupled a smile and slight tilt of the head with a mini-sigh.

“That’s a pretty bold statement to come out 10 minutes into media day,” he said.

Then again, Hargreaves hasn’t been one to ease into things. Since arriving at UF last summer as the top defensive back prospect in the country, the former Tampa (Fla.) Wharton star has done nothing but produce and perform. With team policy limiting true freshman from talking to the press, no one heard what Hargreaves had to say.

Instead, the kid let his play do his talking to the tune of becoming a first-team All-Southeastern Conference performer, a third-team All-American and being tabbed as a team captain for UF's road game at South Carolina.

“You’re always surprised when a kid comes in right away and plays that well,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “He doesn’t surprise me much anymore.”

Muschamp and the Gators know exactly what they’re going to get with Hargreaves because he’s not only one of the best players on Florida's 2014 squad, but one of its hardest workers on the field and in the classroom.

For that reason, Muschamp tabbed Hargreaves, the 5-foot-11, 194-pound cornerback, as the first true sophomore defensive player in school history to represent UF at SEC Media Days, the annual preseason hypefest that kicked off Monday for the more than 1,100 credential writers and broadcasters who flooded the venue.  

“I’m honored to be here,” Hargreaves said. “I talked to Coach Muschamp and he felt I was ready for it ... so I guess I’m ready for it.”

After picking off passes in the first two games of his collegiate career, Hargreaves pretty much announced to his team -- not to mention Florida faithful, the SEC and the rest of the country -- that he was ready for anything.

In a season when so much went wrong for the Gators, Hargreaves was one of UF’s bright spots. Despite starting the 2013 campaign on the depth chart behind starters Louchiez Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, Hargreaves took advantage of some early time on the field to seize a starting job in Week 3 and went on to finish his rookie year with 34 tackles, three interceptions and a school freshman-record 11 passes broken up.

“Vernon Hargreaves,” said junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. “What else can you ask for?”

A lot more, actually, which is fine with Hargreaves. His goals are to build on that great freshman season, but to do it within the framework -- and, hopefully, the success -- of a Gators program looking to rebound from that 4-8 mark.

“I just want to get better,” he said. “And I want to win.”

Both Driskel and Fowler praised Hargreaves' work ethic, something that came naturally as the son of a coach. Vernon Hargreaves II was an assistant on the 2001 University of Miami team that won the national championship -- one of the most talented teams in college football history -- and currently is on staff at thee University of Houston. Football runs in the family's blood.

But the younger Hargreaves not only puts time into his craft, he just has a natural feel for it.

“You knew it immediately,” said Driskel, who threw a few preseason picks to his youthful DB teammate last summer. “When you have a true freshman who knows the game better than anyone else on that side of the ball, well, you have a specimen. He has all the mental and physical tools to be the best corner in college football.”

That’s interesting (and appropriate), considering he’ll also be the leader (a virtual elder statesman) of the UF secondary this season -- as a sophomore.

“I haven’t done anything significant [as a leader], other than talk to guys and get them in the playbook,” Hargreaves said of a unit that must replace the corner him, but also both safety positions and nickel back with a combination of candidates that include freshmen Jalen Tabor, Duke Dawson, Marcell Harris, plus sophomores Brian Poole and Keanu Neal. “Those [young] guys are going to have to play. We need them to get up to speed and I’m taking responsibility for that. It doesn’t matter if I’m ready for the role or not. I have to do it.”

There’s very little Hargreaves hasn’t done thus far.

That now includes venturing into the belly of the league’s media beast and serving as a team spokesman.

“It’s a constant learning experience and there’s just no slacking off,” Hargreaves said. “I always have to be doing what I’m supposed to do, always have to be doing the right things, no matter where I am or who I’m with. I’m still learning how to be a leader because I’m still learning what it takes to be a better player.”

 

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