- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Vernon Hargreaves III was on a mission.
Immediately following his first career interception in Florida’s 2013 opener against Toledo, the no-longer-wide-eyed-freshman jumped up and sprinted toward the sideline, weaving his way around teammates who congratulated him.
Hargreaves III had no time for celebration, as he had some beef to settle with defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.
“You can see it on the film. I ran right to him,” a smiling Hargreaves III told ESPN.com in February. “I just kind of stood in front of him and was like, ‘I told you!’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I guess.’”
It’s rare that a freshman has the gall to approach his position coach like that, but Hargreaves III had incentive after Robinson, known for being quite the trash-talker, challenged him earlier in the week.
Sidelined for eight preseason practices with a shoulder injury, Hargreaves III was first provoked by Robinson in the training room eight days before the opener. Robinson asked if he was going to get beat against the Rockets, or worse, quit.
“No, I’m gonna get a pick,” he told Robinson.
Eight days later, Hargreaves III ended his first mission as a Gator but began a journey that earned him both All-American and all-SEC honors.
Thanks to his father Vernon Hargreaves II's assistant coaching stints at Miami, Florida International, East Carolina and South Florida, Hargreaves III called Miami, Greenville, N.C., and Tampa home.
It exposed Hargreaves III to different places and people, but his love for sports flourished during his nine years in Miami, starting at age three.
“More often than not, they were outside riding their bikes and out running and doing stuff outside, which is kind of old school these days,” Hargreaves II told ESPN.com.
That evoked Hargreaves’ competitive side, as he immersed himself in football, basketball, baseball, soccer and even swimming.
When Hargreaves II got the job to coach USF’s special teams and defensive ends, the family moved from North Carolina to Tampa heading into Hargreaves III’s sophomore year of high school. That’s when Hargreaves III decided to focus solely on football.
His father took him to the Team Tampa 7-on-7 practices, where he had his son line up at cornerback against one of the best high school athletes around -- current USC receiver Nelson Agholor. Hargreaves II said his son held his own for the most part, and he could see his natural fit was at cornerback. He advised his son to stay there, but he never pushed him or trained him outside of anything Hargreaves III didn’t want.
When Hargreaves III garnered five-star status, earned a trip to the Under Armour All-America Game and was offered a scholarship to Florida, it came from his own desire and work ethic.
“He took it upon himself to get as good as he can,” Hargreaves II said.
“I hate to say it, but a lot of that stuff just comes naturally. I don’t know how to explain it, really.”
One interception wasn’t enough for Hargreaves III so he snatched another one in his second game and a third in his fourth.
Hargreaves III seemed almost too comfortable on the field in the country’s toughest conference. He said fall camp was tough … for a week. Hargreaves III wasn’t used to being yelled at or getting beat so he sought guidance from veteran corners Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. After some tough love and reflection, Hargreaves III said he started to ease in, even with the coaches moving him around from outside corner to nickel.
Coach Will Muschamp said he could tell that Hargreaves III was special with “off the charts” high school film, but he knew he needed to get him on the field early after that first week of preseason practice.
He was collecting interceptions and constantly picking things up. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the workload, understood all the new verbiage and was extremely coachable, Muschamp said.
“Vernon’s got the talent of hard work. He works,” Muschamp said. “When he goes out on the offseason program, he competes, and he works. He’s extremely intelligent; football comes very easy to him.
“Hard work is a talent, and a lot of very talented guys don’t have that.”
To Hargreaves III, it’s more than just work ethic. It’s a desire to never sit.
“I guess I don’t like not playing,” said Hargreaves III, who started 10 games in 2013 and was third in the SEC with 14 defended passes. “That’s what pulls me over. I don’t like not being able to do anything.”
Now, he’ll be asked to do even more. In a depleted secondary, Hargreaves III is the top returning member. He’s a youngster by grade, but not by his level of play. He understands that he has to do more than just elevate his game.
“I’m ready to take that on,” he said. “I don’t really feel the pressure, but I know that my coaches and the players look up to me to be able to make plays and teach other guys. That’s what I want to do. I want that to be on me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Hargreaves III will now be hunted in a league and society comprised of wolves. He’ll be scrutinized at every turn, as the spotlight shifts his way.
Neither Muschamp nor Hargreaves II are worried. They know their quiet secondary assassin is capable of ignoring the noise. But they also know that he has to build on 2013 and evolve as he looks to take his next steps.
“If you go backward, they’re going to wear you out,” Hargreaves II said. “You have to go full blast and be even better than you were. This may sound crazy, but that’s the reality. It’s gotta happen.”
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