DB Vernon Hargreaves III making impact for Gators

BY foxsports • September 4, 2013

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe he'll see the score flash across a video board at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, or if Vernon Hargreaves Jr. has time, perhaps he can check his phone at halftime.

Hargreaves' phone is where the father of Gators freshman defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III watched his son make an interception in his first college game four days ago against Toledo.

The schedule worked out perfectly.                       

Hargreaves, in his first year as Houston’s linebackers coach after three seasons at USF, was on the sideline Friday night when the Cougars opened the season with a win over Southern. On Saturday morning he had meetings before breaking off to watch some of Florida’s 24-6 win over Toledo.

When Hargreaves III intercepted Rockets quarterback Terrance Owen in the third quarter and then returned the pick 15 yards to Toledo’s 23, his dad cheered from more than 800 miles away. He wanted to hug his son the way Gators secondary coach Travaris Robinson and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin did when Hargreaves III got to the sideline.

"It was pretty exciting," Hargreaves Jr. said Wednesday afternoon. "I just so happened to be watching the game when he got it. I was like, 'holy smokes, did that just happen?' It was great."

Vernon Jr. won't be able to watch his son live on Saturday -- Houston will be in Philadelphia to play Temple. That game kicks off at noon, the same time as the Florida-Miami game at Sun Life Stadium.

You can be sure Hargreaves Jr. will find out what happened as fast as he can once Houston's game is over. After all, the Hargreaves family has close ties to the Gators and Hurricanes.

During most of his son's childhood, Vernon Jr. was Miami's linebackers coach. Vernon III attended his first football camp at UM and did so for several years afterward. He hung around practice after school, goofing around with guys like former Butkus winner Dan Morgan and first-round NFL picks Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams.

During Hargreaves' time on Miami's staff, the Hurricanes won 34 consecutive games from 2000-02, including the 2001 national title. He was Miami's linebackers coach the last time the Gators were in town, a 38-33 Hurricanes win in 2003 that featured a comeback from a 33-10 deficit.

Vernon III grew up in the middle of what was a resurgent period for Miami's football program.

"He started off in Miami," Hargreaves Jr. said. "He was around the program the whole time."

Hargreaves III will be an enemy Saturday as the No. 12-ranked Gators -- No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll -- try to win at Miami for the first time since 1985.

His college career is only one game old, but it's easy to see why Hargreaves III was such a highly touted prospect coming out of Tampa's Wharton High. When it was time for college, Florida and Florida State pursued Hargreaves the most.

The Gators won.

Wharton coach David Mitchell has been at Wharton since the school opened in 1997 and took over the football program in 2005. He said the program had never had a recruit come through like Hargreaves, who moved from North Carolina to Tampa his sophomore year. Hargreaves Jr. spent three seasons at East Carolina after his eight seasons in Miami.

"He raised the bar," Mitchell said Wednesday. "There is light at the end of that tunnel and it's mighty bright. He can do things effortlessly, and then when he pays attention, he can raise it to a whole another level."

Gators coach Will Muschamp does not allow freshmen to do media interviews, but on Saturday after the game Muschamp praised Hargreaves' instincts on his interception.

Durkin did the same Wednesday.

"I thought it was a heck of play. That shows great ability, but he's also an instinctive player," Durkin said. "For a guy to go do that and make a play on the ball, you don't see that every day. We think we've got something special with him.

"He can make us better."

Mitchell was at home in Tampa watching the game on TV when Hargreaves made his first career interception. He wasn't sure if Hargreaves would play this soon at UF, but he's not surprised that he has already made an impact. The Gators scored their final touchdown on the ensuing drive after Hargreaves' interception.

"He's game smart. That makes him a better player," Mitchell said. "He sees and knows what's going on and what's coming, so he has the edge. On that point, it doesn't surprise me because he knows about taking care of business being around a father who coaches. He knew what it was all about when he got to that level and what he needed to do."

Hargreaves missed a portion in the middle of fall camp with a strained shoulder. However, Muschamp said there was no doubt he was going to play prior to kickoff against Toledo.

Hargreaves Jr. hasn’t had much time to chat with his son lately with both of their seasons underway. Like Mitchell, he can’t say he is stunned at Vernon III’s quick entry into the lineup.

"A lot of the times the guys that have a lot expected of them, sometimes they live up to it and sometimes they don’t," Hargreaves Jr. said. "I'm excited about the fact that he is taking on the challenge. He hasn't backed down. There's still a long way to go but he has accepted the challenge and he's working hard at trying to be as good as he can be."

The next challenge comes Saturday in Miami, against a program he was once a part of.

"Miami is pretty good. He won't have to worry about whether they are going to go after him or not, because I'm sure they will," Hargreaves Jr. said.