Meet the Best Freshman in College Football, Florida's Vernon Hargreaves

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2013

While it’s one thing to say that Florida State’s quarterback Jameis Winston isn’t the best freshman in college football, arguing that he’s not even the top guy in the state of Florida might be taking things too far.

Or, is it?

Before passing judgment on either point, consider the case of Florida true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, a kid who was in high school less than six months ago.

His Past

Hargreaves is the son of former UConn linebacker and longtime college assistant Vernon Hargreaves II. 

The elder Hargreaves—who has made coaching stops at UConn, Miami (Fla.), Florida International, Bowling Green, East Carolina and South Florida—was hired as the linebackers coach at the University of Houston in February of 2013.

Hargreaves III’s high school playing years coincided with his dad’s three-year stint at USF, making it possible for him to make a home at Wharton High School in Tampa, Fla.

Hargreaves’ high school stats include 203 tackles (135 solo), three-and-a-half sacks, nine interceptions and five forced fumbles.

Hargreaves in the 2013 Under Armour All-American Game.
Hargreaves in the 2013 Under Armour All-American Game.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hargreaves was a 5-star ranked prospect in the class of 2013. According to Rivals, he was ranked No. 1 nationally among cornerbacks, No. 2 overall among all recruits and No. 2 overall in the state of Florida.

More than 35 BCS schools offered Hargreaves a scholarship, but he decided on Florida in late July of 2012.

After committing to the Gators, Hargreaves earned MVP honors in the Under Armour All-American game in January of 2013.

The following video highlights Hargreaves’ impressive performance in that game.  What’s worth noting here is that Hargreaves is going head-to-head with some of the best talent in the nation.

His Present

Hargreaves signed on with a Gator squad brimming with talent and experience at cornerback.  

Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy—both juniors and NFL prospects—were set to start at cornerback coming in to this season, meaning that Hargreaves would likely have to wait his turn for significant playing time.

Though Hargreaves did play in the 2013 opener against Toledo (nabbing his first collegiate interception), he got a bigger opportunity when Roberson left the Miami (Fla.) game in Week 2 with an injury.

In relief, Hargreaves came in and recorded three solo tackles and another interception (for a 24-yard return) in what was a 21-16 Gator loss.

Sep 21, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (1) breaks up the pass of Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Josh Smith (25) during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Tennessee
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

According to Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times, Hargreaves was named a starter by coach Will Muschamp before Florida’s Week 5 game at Kentucky.

In only four collegiate games Hargreaves has racked up three interceptions, seven tackles (six solo) and four broken-up passes.

He is tied for No. 1 in the SEC and No. 2 in the FBS in interceptions and is ranked No. 4 in the SEC and No. 6 nationally in passes broken up.

The highlight of the season for Hargreaves—thus far—is an aerobatic interception in the Kentucky game.  To see his remarkable grab, check out the highlight video which includes the play at the 1:10 mark.

As far as what his teammates thought of the play and what they think of Hargreaves generally, here’s what—according to Phillip Heilman at The Independent Florida Alligator—Gator linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. had to say.

He’s just a ball-hawk player…That’s all I have to say for Vernon…When he caught the ball, I saw it, and I saw how high he got.  All I said was, “Wow,” and I just walked off to the sideline.  That’s crazy.  He’s going to be a very good player.

Hargreaves was named the SEC Freshman of the Week after the win over Kentucky.

His Future

Perhaps the most effective way to gauge Hargreaves’ potential at Florida is to look back at how quickly he ramped up to big-time college football.

According to a piece by ESPN’s Edward Aschoff, Florida senior cornerback/safety Jaylen Watkins was impressed with Hargreaves from day one.

[Watkins] said he knew from the first day Hargreaves stepped on the practice field that he would be special.  Watkins said his vertical jump blew everyone away, but it was the way he picked up the technique that had his veteran teammates turning their heads…It took guys like Watkins weeks to get the positioning and technique down.  Watkins said it only took Hargreaves ‘a few days.’ 

‘Once he got it, he looked like me, Marcus and Loucheiz at the corner.  There was no drop-off…’

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 07:  Vernon Hargreaves #1 of the Florida Gators makes an interception during a game against the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

What’s most astonishing about Watkins’ comments is that after only a “few days” Hargreaves looked like Marcus and Loucheiz and “there was no drop-off.”

Remember, Hargreaves is an 18-year-old kid being compared to two juniors from the No. 6-ranked pass defense in the country—hailing from the SEC—who are expected to do well in next year’s NFL draft.

How well?

NFL Draft Scout has Purifoy projected as the No. 2 cornerback in the 2014 draft and the No. 27 overall pick. Roberson is a bit lower at No. 4 among cornerbacks and No. 60 overall.

If he’s already that good, after four games, it seems safe to say that the sky is the limit for Hargreaves both at Florida and beyond.

Vernon Hargreaves II’s biographical information courtesy of USF, Hargreaves III’s high school stats courtesy of Max Preps, recruiting data courtesy of Rivals and other stats courtesy of College Football Statistics.


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