- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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Editor’s note: With Florida’s spring practice now in the rear-view mirror, we’ll clean out the notebook this week and touch on a few remaining topics.
Going into his sophomore season, the cornerback can expect to be a full-time starter after a sensational first year in which he was named first-team All-SEC.
He can also expect a cold shoulder from opposing quarterbacks who won't want to test the Gators' best cover corner. So the man they call VH3 has resolved to help his team in other ways.
"I just need to be a better leader," he said during spring practice. "A lot of guys are looking up to me now. ...
"That's the role I'm trying to figure out right now. Last year was easy for me to ask [older players] what to do or what to expect or what's going down. Now they're asking me. I'm still learning how to kind of take that older brother role, but it's a process."
Teammates have noticed the change.
"I feel Vernon is very different," Dante Fowler Jr. said. "Vern came in here and wanted to be a leader. He's being vocal. He's matured a lot. He's working hard in the weight room. He's taking the offseason program very seriously, and you can see it in his body. He's just a freakish cornerback."
Last year, Hargreaves recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions and 11 pass breakups, which tied Janoris Jenkins in 2008 for the most by a freshman in school history.
The No. 3 overall prospect in the nation came to Florida last summer with an air of confidence. The son of a longtime college football coach, Hargreaves also brought razor-sharp coverage instincts and good enough technique to play in all of UF's 12 games and make 10 starts.
"Obviously Vernon lived up to everything we thought as a freshman and did some great things," defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "I think he’s still got a lot of growing to do in his game. I think he’d be the first one to tell you that. I think the unique thing about Vernon is not just his talent and his ability, it’s his understanding, an awareness of where he’s at and awareness of where the game of football is.
"Vernon’s a guy that understands you gotta get better. He’s not letting his head get too big and think, 'I’m this, I’ve arrived.' He practices really hard. He works on the finer details of his game, his technique. As long as he continues to do that, he’ll continue to do better and progress. The sky’s the limit for him."
Hargreaves has a more blunt assessment of his first season.
"Personally, I felt like I did OK," he said. "I had some things I needed to improve on. ... Just getting bigger, faster and stronger. I wasn’t really small last year, but I can get a little stronger."
Working every day in UF's conditioning program, Hargreaves did just that, which is why he is one player coach Will Muschamp doesn't worry about.
"He’s really intelligent," Muschamp said. "His biggest talent to me is his competitive edge and his thirst for being the best player he can be. Sometimes that’s hard. Guys rest on their laurels a little bit, they get patted on the back. He’s not a guy you worry about those sort of things. He handles praise and criticism very well. He’s not a guy that goes out and takes a day off. He goes out and works every day.
"He’s a great example for our younger players -- especially our younger secondary players -- of how you approach your business. I’m really proud of him in that regard."
Hargreaves had what Muschamp called "an outstanding spring." He performed so well and so consistently that the Gators held him out of their spring game, choosing to avoid exposing one of their best players to injury and instead giving extra playing time to two young cornerbacks.
Nine months ago, Hargreaves was in their shoes. Now he's taken both freshmen under his wing.
"He embraces it and does a great job bringing those guys along," Durkin said. "He’s approachable and helps those guys.
"He’s great for our defense. We’re lucky to have him."