ST. PETERSBURG — With his 813 area code Sharpied on his towel and a hometown audience behind him, Wharton High School defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III made the most of the biggest stage of his life.
The Florida commit starred in Friday night’s Under Armour All-America Game, tallying an interception, pass breakup and team-high five tackles to earn MVP honors in Team Highlight’s 16-3 victory over Team Nitro at Tropicana Field.
“A lot of guys look up to me,” said Hargreaves, ESPN’s top-ranked cornerback and No. 3 overall prospect. “A lot of my friends look up to me. That’s what I play for. I play to let them know that they can do anything they want to do.”
For Hargreaves, that meant a lockdown performance against the country’s top recruits.
With his team clinging to a 10-3 lead, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound athlete soared in the end zone to break up a pass from five-star quarterback Shane Morris.
In the fourth quarter, Hargreaves jumped another deep ball from Morris, a frequent Hargreaves victim from previous all-star events.
“I knew where he was going,” Hargreaves said.
Hargreaves’ slashing 18-yard return set up a 30-yard field goal from St. Petersburg’s Sean Covington. The UCLA commit was the game’s leading scorer, hitting all three of his field goals and the lone extra point. He averaged 40.8 yards per punt and booted a 58-yarder, giving more help to Hargreaves and Highlight.
“Shutdown corner,” Miami Booker T. Washington linebacker Matthew Thomas said of Hargreaves. “He didn’t give up nothing tonight.”
Neither did Thomas and the rest of the Highlight defense, which held Nitro to the fewest points (three) and yards (88) in the game’s six-year history.
Thomas — ESPN’s No. 8 overall prospect — had one of his team’s four interceptions in the second quarter to set up the game’s lone touchdown — a 6-yard pass from Alabama commit Cooper Bateman to LSU-bound tight end Josh McNeil.
Thomas, ESPN’s No. 8 overall prospect who ranks Florida State among his top four college choices, added a highlight-reel hit later in the quarter, leveling Morris and drawing oohs from the crowd.
But the night’s star was Hargreaves, who earned rave reviews on ESPN’s live national telecast and scored an in-game interview during the second half.
He is the second player from the 813 area code to earn MVP honors across the bay. Alonso product and current Miami Hurricane defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo shared the award in 2011.
“When we were in Orlando (practicing) and we were going against Miami dudes, we were telling them we put out the best talent in Tampa,” said Armwood receiver and Highlight teammate Alvin Bailey. “I think tonight we showed out.”
LOCALS ROUNDUP: In his first game back from a shoulder injury that derailed his senior season, St. Petersburg Catholic running back Ryan Green led Nitro with 14 rushing yards on two carries. The FSU commit had a touchdown catch broken up in the fourth quarter.
Armwood safety Leon McQuay III tallied two pass breakups for Highlight. His off-the-field highlight came in the fourth quarter, when he announced his college commitment to USC.
Bailey, a UF commit, led Highlight with 78 all-purpose yards (47 on two punt returns, 31 on a kickoff return).
GATORS MISS: In addition to McQuay’s commitment, four other players announced their non-binding college decisions during the game — with UF getting some bad news.
Brooklyn’s four-star defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko (ESPN’s No. 112 overall prospect) committed to Clemson over UF and Syracuse. Georgia linebacker Trey Johnson (No. 96) made a verbal pledge to Ohio State, choosing the Buckeyes over the Gators and Tennessee, among others.
Louisiana pass rusher Kendell Beckwith (No. 19) pledged to LSU, and California five-star athlete Max Redfield (No. 36) selected Notre Dame.
ATTENDANCE: The game drew an announced crowd of 20,087. That’s the second-lowest audience in the event’s history and its smallest since moving to Tropicana Field in 2010. But it attracted 832 more fans than the average 2012 Rays home game. The three previous Under Armour matchups at the Trop averaged 23,063 spectators.
CAMPBELL A COMBINE STAR: East Lake junior-to-be George Campbell was one of the top performers at Under Armour’s combine, held before the game. The 6-foot-5, 177-pound athlete with five college offers ran a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash and clocked a 6.9-second L-cone drill.
ODDS AND ENDS: Hargreaves shared MVP honors with Reuben Foster, an uncommitted linebacker from Alabama who led Nitro with six tackles — 2.5 for loss. …Miami quarterback commit Kevin Olsen finished 5-of-15 passing for 22 yards and was sacked twice.
Staff writer John C. Cotey contributed to this report.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.