HOOVER, Ala. — Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III might be one of the biggest playmakers in the SEC. He’s probably the best cornerback in the conference too. But this true sophomore knows it’s going to take more than what he showed last season, to be a complete football player.
"I played pretty well last year," said Hargreaves on Monday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "Obviously I have to get better, and bring the young guys along."
While Hargreaves’ self-assessment might sound like an attempt at modesty, it wasn’t.
As a freshman, he burst onto the scene with interceptions in his first two games, and three picks in his first four contests. He was an All-Freshman All-American selection, a First-Team All-SEC selection, and matched a true freshman record at Florida with 11 pass breakups.
If Hargreaves can accomplish what he did in 2013 as a first-year player, as he was trying to find his way in the landscape of college football, what can he do with a year’s worth of experience to work from?
"We had Loucheiz (Purifoy), (Marcus) Rob(erson) and Jaylen Watkins, a lot of people forget," said Gators defensive end Dante Fowler. "In Vernon Hargreaves, what more can you ask for? Being able to come in and play and get some starts underneath his belt shows how good he is."
Hargreaves arrived at Florida as a highly-recruited talent, but behind experienced veterans like Purifoy, Roberson and Watkins. The Gators lost that veteran leadership when Watkins was drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles of the 2014 NFL Draft, and Purifoy and Roberson left school early, went undrafted, and signed rookie, free-agent contracts with the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams, respectively.
Hargreaves worked his way onto the field, in spite of the talented corners ahead of him on the Florida depth chart last season.
"He’s a guy that’s got a burning desire to be really, really good," said head coach Will Muschamp. "He’s in the film room constantly. He’s correcting himself. He’s coachable. All the intangible things you want a player to be he possesses."
But Hargreaves isn’t a complete player. There are still aspects of his game that need improvement. One of which is as much an off-the-field issue as a Saturday expectation.
"I’m still learning how to be a leader," said Hargreaves, who believes it sounds weird that he was now considered the elder statesman among the cornerbacks. "When I was coming in, it was them (Purifoy, Robinson and Watkins) telling me and showing me ‘This is what needs to be done.’ The same things they were telling me, it’s only been a year."
Within that year, Hargreaves has had to go from student to teacher, and leader.
Hargreaves, who’s highly coachable himself, is the product of a football family.
After four years as a linebacker at Connecticut from 1980-83, Vernon Hargreaves Jr. turned coach. From 1985-1997 he was a linebackers coach with his alma mater. He then spent eight seasons with Miami, had a stop at Florida International and Bowling Green, then worked for three seasons at East Carolina.
Hargreaves Jr. is now the special teams coordinator at South Florida, where he’s been for four years. Has that coaching prowess been passed down from father to son, and can Hargreaves III become the coach on the field he needs to be?
While he doesn’t get to talk to his father often with two conflicting football schedules, Hargreaves III is learning that communication is the key.
"That’s the biggest challenge," said Hargreaves III. "You can’t talk to everybody the same. Some people you have to yell at, and some people you have to pull to the side.
"I’m an example kind of guy, but now, that might not be enough. There’s a lot of freshmen, so now I have to talk to them too. So that’s where I need to grow up and learn. I have to learn who they are, how they are, how they play. That’s just my job, that’s how this year is going to be."
Hargreaves III said he’s taken teaching methods from anyone who will dish out good advice. That list started with the veterans on the team last season, but also includes his father and several coaches.
But if Hargreaves III is going to truly be beneficial to young guys like Jalen Tabor, Duke Dawson and Brian Poole, he’s going to have to do more than just learn to communicate and teach. He’s going to have to evolve in both regards.
Forget about mentoring for a moment–if Hargreaves III progresses as a cornerback in 2014, whoever is on the opposite side of the defense from him, is going to get attacked, over and over and over again. While Hargreaves III attempts to build upon his award-winning freshman campaign, he’s going to have to be a well-versed guide, as much as an example.
After listening to Hargreaves III interact with the media Monday at SEC Media Days, and with a season’s worth of awe-inspiring film to look over, the young cornerbacks at Florida are in good hands.