Injuries plagued the 2013 Florida Gators, turning a promising season sour before October rolled around on the schedule. Injuries derailed a team with promise and led them down a slippery road of losses and the worst season of football in Florida history in three decades.
The silver lining, however, was valuable experience for a talented freshmen class; class loaded with playmakers, pushed into bigger roles than they could have been ready for at the time.
The moment might have been a bit bigger than they could have handled as freshmen but with a year of experience they will be asked to be pillars of the team in this redemption season for the Gators.
We’ll kick off our sophomore spotlight with the freshmen that exceeded even the lofty expectations heaped on his shoulders coming into Florida after an Under Armour All-American senior season in high school — Vernon Hargreaves
2013 Stats: 12 games played (10 starts) 3 interceptions, 38 tackles (26 solo), 11 pass breakups
Postseason Awards: Third team All-American (AP), National Defensive Freshman of the Year (College Football News), First Team All-Freshmen All-American (numerous publications), SEC Newcomer of the Year (Athlon Sports), First Team All-SEC (numerous publications), First Team Freshmen All-SEC (numerous publications).
Hargreaves started the season off right, recording three interceptions in his first four collegiate games. He started the last ten games of the season and led the Gators with 11 pass breakups — tying the school record for most by a freshman.
Hargreaves was touted as the next great cornerback in a recent line of star-studded players who now play their football on Sunday.
He didn’t disappoint.
Hargreaves handled the pressure like a fifth-year senior, someone who has been around the block and seen all there is to see in the toughest conference in college football, not the green thumb rookie he was.
Now he’ll be asked to come back out for an encore. He’ll be needed more than ever after the departures of Jaylen Watkins, Cody Riggs, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. Hargreaves will need to lead this secondary — and team — in 2014.
Boom or Bust?
Hargreaves’ freshman campaign is a tough act to follow. Many players would struggle to keep a level head when heaped with as many postseason and pre-season accolades as Hargreaves has been.
But he’s the right player to do it.
The son of a coach, Hargreaves grew up surrounded by some of the best players in college football, spending his youth watching the Miami Hurricanes while his father was a coach.
“Being around, when my dad coached at Miami, I was around all those great players like Ed Reed, Sean Taylor,” he said. “I was around all them. I remember how hard they used to work and compete. I took that from them.”
That work ethic ensures that Hargreaves will not rest on his laurels, for those who have great ability will always endure greater expectations.
Hargreaves will rise to this new set of expectations because it’s who he is as a person and a player. He is already one of if not the best player on his own team and could be the considered one of the best players in the SEC after what should be a promising, award-filled, sophomore season.