Last season Florida Gators standout Vernon Hargreaves III was thrust into a role that many freshmen wouldn’t have been ready for. Hargreaves enrolled in the summer and began going through workouts with the team but a shoulder injury would sideline him for most of the fall camp. He wasn’t even sure if he would be able to play in the season opener against Toledo.
He did play and play well. Hargreaves picked off a pass against Toledo in his first collegiate game. He grabbed another one the following week against Miami and a third interception two weeks later against Kentucky. Hargreaves had arrived. He was known among Gator fans as a highly sought after recruits and a blue chip prospect, but his performance in 2013 introduced the then freshmen to the rest of the college football world.
His teammates applaud his play on the field and insist he earned all of the offseason accolades that showered him but he isn’t satisfied.
“Things definitely slowed down for me. When I first came in last year, I thought things were fast and I didn’t know if I was going to play,” he said. “Now, I’m obviously settling in. I’m comfortable. My confidence is high. I’m just trying to get better.”
Fans have seen how comfortable he is in pads on the field. If you see him in person, his bulked up 195-pound frame shows that he’s comfortable in the weight room but the coaching staff has now asked him to do something he isn’t comfortable with, not yet at least.
Hargreaves is being asked — as just a sophomore — to be a leader of the defense as well as take five freshmen cornerbacks under his wing and show them the ropes. Last season, Hargreaves has veterans like Jaylen Watkins, Cody Riggs, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson to use as an example, this season he is the man, the one responsible for leading by example. It’s a task he thinks about more than any receiver he’ll line up across from this season.
“I’ve just got to earn their trust. Once I do that, they’ll probably want to listen to me and that’s where my leadership grows,” Hargreaves said. “They’ve seen me play on TV, but they’ve never been around me in meetings. That’s just kind of the inside thing with me. I feel like I have to gain that trust. They might already trust me already, but I feel like I need to do more to gain that trust.”
Hargreaves is humble by nature. Every single freshman that came in to Florida — offense and defense — knows who he is. He was one of the lone bright spots during a miserable season in 2013. They know who he is and they’ll listen when he speaks.
Hargreaves knows that he set the bar high last year. He’ll have to have another great season as a sophomore to be better than he was as a green freshman. He doesn’t let the pressure of his past play and outside expectations weigh on him and his most important message to the young cornerbacks that now look up to him is that they shouldn’t judge themselves based on what he was able to accomplish as a freshman.
“These guys, they’re a little different. I don’t think they look at it like that. They’re all their own person. They have their own goals and their own aspirations,” he said. “We don’t even talk about that a lot either. They understand that they have to play early. It’s going to be tough, but like I said, they’re individuals. They’ve got their own goals and that’s what they’re working for.”
Hargreaves was quick to praise newcomers J.C. Jackson and Quincy Wilson — the latter for coming away with an interception in his first practice — but there are two freshmen that he holds to a different standard already.
“Jalen [Tabor] and Duke [Dawson], they’re vets in my book,” said Hargreaves. “They had a spring under their belt. They understand the defense. They know what’s expected. So in my book, they’re with me. But they play well. They’re getting there. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to perfect our craft.”
Hargreaves will likely go on to another All-SEC and All-American season. He’s a driven, hungry, talented person. He has all the tools and work ethic to be a great college and professional defensive back but his toughest task this season will be bringing the rest of the cornerbacks along with him. Can he rise to the occasion and become the leader that Florida needs him to be?
You’d be crazy to think he isn’t ready for that task.
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