- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the fringe benefits of growing up as a coach's kid is having a front-row seat to the inner workings of a team.
In the case of Vernon Hargreaves III, his father’s occupation provided him the chance to witness greatness at an early age. And it had a lasting impact that influences him to this day, one contributing factor, among several, to Hargreaves' quick rise to elite status in college football.
His father, Vernon Hargreaves Jr., was the linebackers coach at Miami from 1998 to 2005, so young Vernon had the chance to see a national championship team and pipeline of first-round NFL draft picks.
"Just seeing those great players play -- Santana Moss, Ed Reed, Clinton Portis, Ken Dorsey -- seeing them work at practice, seeing how competitive they were [was great]," Hargreaves III said. "There were fights at practice, but they were like fights that, 'I'm going to be better than you.' I can just remember sitting there thinking, 'I want to be where they are.'"
Hargreaves III is well on his way to being there.
As a true freshman cornerback at Florida, Hargreaves quickly excelled. He has already established a reputation as the best player at his position in the SEC and could soon assume that title nationally, already being considered one of the nation’s best as a sophomore. In the ESPN.com ranking of 2014 players, Hargreaves ranked 13th overall, the highest-ranked true sophomore and one of only two in the top 15 (Myles Jack of UCLA being the other).
A first-team All-SEC selection last season, Hargreaves ranked second in the league in passes defended per game (1.17, with 11 total) and had three interceptions to go with 38 tackles. Ask his teammates and coaches about him, and glowing reviews follow.
"What makes Vernon Hargreaves so special is that he's just a well-polished football player," Florida defensive lineman Dante Fowler said. "He has the tools, he has the athletic ability and he's a great student on and off the field, with film. Also, just being a leader, being a coach, being able to teach guys, he's helping himself become a better player. He's in the right direction, and he's going to stay in the right direction. The sky is the limit for him."
Florida coach Will Muschamp joked that Hargreaves' parents don’t take any grief from him, intimating that the values they instilled in him have helped mold him into a player Muschamp said is quite coachable.
"He is a very quick learner," Muschamp said. "He is very coachable. He is very difficult on himself as a guy who really takes a lot of pride in his performance. But he's a guy you can coach hard. You can get after him and he handles it and he moves to the next play. He's got a lot of confidence, the type of confidence you're going to need with the way we play."
And while Hargreaves experienced much personal success last season, the Gators’ 4-8 record didn’t sit well with him.
"I like to win," he said. "And we didn't win, so it's not hard for me to push [the individual success] aside. But you can't focus on the future if you're so worried about the past. We have to let it go. It already happened. There's nothing we can do about it. We can talk about it as much as we want and nothing's going to change. We were still 4-8, and it's still unacceptable. As a team, we've moved on from it, and that's that."
Winning is what he saw those early-2000s Miami teams do. His father said the Hurricanes' practices in those days were intense.
"Every day was a war," Hargreaves Jr. said. "You can't go out there and not perform at a high level. That's just the way it was. When you think about the guys we had, it was a who's who of guys."
Hargreaves III took a liking to the late Sean Taylor, who was an All-American safety with the Hurricanes. Though Taylor was much bigger physically (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) in college than Hargreaves (5-11, 192), the way Taylor played was something Hargreaves admired, and he tries to adopt those qualities now.
"The way he played, you're going to feel him on the field," Hargreaves said. "Receivers didn't want to catch balls because he was on the middle of the field. I want to have an impact like that.
"Maybe not the same impact he had because, I'm not as big a hitter as he was, but when I'm on the field, I want people to say, 'We've got to watch out for Vernon on that side.'"
It appears he is already accomplishing that goal.
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