TAMPA — The widespread presumption is steeped in high definition, rooted in a darkened den in the Hargreaves home.
Surely, Wharton three-way junior Vernon Hargreaves III and his dad — a USF assistant — log tedious waking hours breaking down tape of Wildcats games. Opponents are dissected, nuances discovered and techniques scrutinized in an effort to maximize Vernon III’s skills and advantages.
The only accuracy about that image, Vernon III insists, is that he and his dad reside beneath the same roof.
“I haven’t broken down film with my dad ever, and I’m not even lying,” said Vernon III, the playoff-bound Wildcats’ most versatile — and perhaps valuable — player. “We’ve watched film of me playing maybe one time where he’s critiquing me.”
Reality is, a day contains too few hours for a Big East assistant and full-time student to bunker down for hours and break down tape.
On most weeknights, Vernon III says he’s asleep when his dad, USF’s special teams coordinator and defensive ends coach, gets home.
If you wish to correlate Vernon III’s success to his football-rooted family, credit the nurturing of an unobtrusive dad, the sacrifice and support of a mom, and good ol’ Hargreaves heredity.
But other factors also come in to play, such as instinctiveness, fleetness and work ethic.
“It’s his attitude,” Wildcats senior slot receiver Jaylen Dinard said. “He’s always coming out here having fun and wanting to work. He’s like that every single day. I can’t name anybody else that’s like that.”
It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that when the Wildcats (5-5) travel to Orlando Dr. Phillips for Friday’s opening-round Class 8A playoff game, Hargreaves could line up at nearly a half-dozen spots. Among them: free safety, holder, wildcat QB, maybe even some receiver.
“Really, he’s done everything except become the kicker,” coach David Mitchell said.
He’d probably outrun his own coverage. Bestowed with 4.45 speed, Vernon III (5-10, 180 pounds) enters the playoffs with 505 total yards, 49 tackles, two picks, three blocked field goals and eight touchdowns. Already, his feats have become entrenched in Wharton lore.
Quarterback Chase Litton points to his three TDs — catch, kick return and interception return — in a preseason game against Riverview. Dinard recalls Vernon III lunging almost horizontally in front of a receiver for a pick in the end zone in a seven-on-seven contest.
“I could not have gone there,” Dinard said.
Vernon III says he’s proudest of his 26-point effort — three TDs, four two-point conversions — in a 44-21 win at Alonso that clinched a playoff berth.
He clinched the admiration of recruiting analysts, many of whom project him as a corner in college, long before.
“He can do it all,” said Josh Newberg of 247Sports, whose site ranks Vernon III the nation’s No. 1 cornerback for the Class of 2013. “He can jam you at the line, he’s a great tackler, just a great pure cover corner. One thing I really like about Vernon is his ability to make the big play when his team needs it. It’s really hard for a corner to impact a game on the high school level, but when I see Vernon play he’s making interceptions, tackling for a loss or blocking a field goal.”
Fortunately for his dad, a former University of Connecticut All-America linebacker, the Bulls’ schedule (five home games so far, one road game on Thursday) has allowed him to see most of his son’s exploits first-hand.
Peering through the eyes of a coach, he sees the prerequisites of a stellar secondary player: quickness, speed and “a kid that kind of understands the game a little bit.” Through the prism of a parent, he sees a wife, Jackie, who serves as the cornerstone of a solid home foundation.
“I say that in that his mother is the one who has taken him to practice, who gets after him from a classroom standpoint and makes him do things the right way,” said his dad, who hasn’t had the chance to coach his son, save for a flag football league more than a half-dozen years ago. "Athletically, I don’t know where that comes from; I guess dad gives him some of those abilities.”
If dad grows more vocal and vehement in the recruiting process, it’s only because it’s his day job. USF is one of four in-state Division I-A schools that have offered Vernon III. The other offers: Florida, FSU, Miami and Notre Dame.
At this point, Vernon III said he likes Florida, where his older sister is a sophomore. Dad can only hope the middle of his three kids changes his mind as deftly as he changes direction.
“One of the things that I told him early was, just figure out who the ones are that you’re really interested in, and as this thing progresses, you’ve got to make an educated decision,” the elder Hargreaves said.
“It’s a unique situation and I’m trying to figure out the best way to kind of go about it. He needs to let itself play out.”