After strong start, Hargreaves now a starter


Florida freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has an interception in each of his first two games with the Gators.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 4:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 4:53 p.m.

Only two games into his Florida career, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is no longer considered a true freshman by the coaching staff. He’s considered a starter.

That was the word Wednesday from both Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.

“Vernon Hargreaves is considered a starter for us at this time based on how he is playing and performing and producing,” Muschamp said.

Durkin seconded that.

“He’s played really well for us this season,” Durkin said. “We play so many different packages on defense where we bring five or six DBs on the field. He’s definitely considered a starter. Wherever that is at, he’s one of those guys in the mix.”

Many projected this happening at some point this season. Hargreaves was a five-star recruit, the consensus No. 1 cornerback prospect in the nation coming out of Tampa Wharton High School and considered a can’t-miss prospect after the way he performed at the Under Armour All-America game, where he was the MVP.

But his rise from five-star prospect to starter at Florida has probably happened faster than many were anticipating.

He’s done it after being on campus for just a few months and playing in only two games.

Muschamp said earlier this week that true freshmen will play at Florida when they’re ready.

Well, Hargreaves is ready. Already.

He’s shown it in practice, in the film room and, most importantly, in the two games he’s played, intercepting a pass in both.

“This guy is ready, that’s the bottom line,” Muschamp said. “He’s been productive in practice. He’s been productive in games. I’m young, but I’m old-fashioned that it doesn’t just snap on game day and all of a sudden it happens and the guy plays really good.

“He produces in practice every single day, going back to camp from Day 1 all the way through until he was injured (midway through August). Then he came back off his injury and he was productive again. Then he does it on game day. That’s why he is playing, and really a guy that is going to be in the rotation as far as starting.”

Hargreaves certainly hasn’t looked or performed like a true freshman. He’s shown confidence covering wide receivers man-to-man. He’s shown great speed, ball skills and playmaking ability.

In the opener against Toledo, he made a nice break on a pass to come up with a crucial interception. A week later against Miami, he almost turned an interception into a potential game-winning touchdown for the Gators had he not stepped out of bounds during a dynamic return.

“Obviously, he has great talent and ability to play the position,” Durkin said. “He’s a very mature guy. He handles himself really well in meetings. At practice, he knows how to prepare. He’s a coach’s son, and you can tell. He’s one of those guys you know has been around the game. He carries himself like an experienced veteran, and it shows on the field.”

Muschamp said Hargreaves revealed a lot about his confidence as a player during the recruiting process, when he expressed no concern about Florida’s deep depth chart at cornerback. Hargreaves signed with the Gators even though the top four cornerbacks were returning.

"That's a great thing,” Muschamp said. “I think it shows you his confidence. In order to play corner, especially the way we play, you better be a confident guy. And it shows confidence in his ability. He's very comfortable with who he is and with his ability.”

Muschamp said Hargreaves’ intelligence also has played a role in his early emergence.

"The first thing is he's really smart,” Muschamp said. “He's a guy that really works at the game. He comes in and watches a lot of tape. There's a reason why he's playing well.

“God's blessed him with a lot of athleticism, but he works at the mental side of the game, where it’s very hard to do for a lot of young players. They've been so much better than everyone else, so it really doesn't matter.

“They think with their athleticism, they're just going to beat the opponent because they've always been better. And that's not how he has approached it. He's come in and worked extremely hard.”

Hargreaves’ impressive play has allowed the coaching staff to move senior cornerback Jaylen Watkins to safety, where he steps in as a starter this week for redshirt freshman Marcus Maye, who gave up a long touchdown pass in the Miami game and had some issues tackling.

Like most teams UF faces, Tennessee will spread the field with three and four wide receivers, which means Hargreaves likely will be in the starting lineup Saturday.

His teammates consider him a welcome addition.

“I’m very impressed with him,” junior linebacker Neiron Ball said. “He's definitely a great player. He's going to be a great player. I'm just excited to see him play.

“As a freshman, his confidence (stands out). He has great confidence and he's willing to learn and he's willing to pick up on things and he has a great attitude about it, too. I like that about him."

With Hargreaves, there seems to be a lot to like.

“He comes in and he knows what to do,” Watkins said. “That allows us in the secondary to be more versatile. I can go back to safety with him stepping in and filling that void. He’s made plays when the coaches have asked him to and he will continue to make more.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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