Vernon Hargreaves III received his first scholarship offer in eighth grade from East Carolina.
Soon after most of East Carolina’s coaching staff was hired at USF in 2010, including his father, Hargreaves received an offer to play with the hometown Bulls.
Since then the Wharton defensive back has received about 70 offers. Over the years, Hargreaves has received enough correspondence from colleges to fill dozens of shoe boxes and give a postal worker a backache.
A consensus five-star recruit, Hargreaves eliminated much of the suspense surrounding his college choice by orally committing to Florida in July. He is expected to seal that commitment with the Gators on national signing day.
But Hargreaves didn’t arrive at that decision with ease. He grew up in Miami and was a childhood fan of the Hurricanes. He was enticed by the weather and scenery during a visit out to several Pac-12 schools. And, of course, he considered staying close to home and playing for his father at USF.
Recently, the Times asked Hargreaves – our Blue Chipper of the Year – to share his thoughts about some of the programs that he visited over the past year and didn’t make the cut. Here’s what he said ...then read on for his thoughts on other Tampa Bay talents, the death of Facebook, and much more (All quotes are from Hargreaves unless otherwise noted):
Notre Dame: “I think they graduated something like 98 percent of their athletes and 95 percent of their African-American athletes. … And I liked their tradition there. … I liked (head coach) Brian Kelly. He’s funny. … But you have to be different to go to Notre Dame. It just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t see myself there.”
Alabama: “I went in there and sat down in (Nick Saban’s office). Coach Saban is intimidating. He’s cool. He sits down and has this big chair, it has a little button. He sits back and kicks his feet up and he’s in a suit. So he hits the button and the door closes behind him real slow. It made me sit up. It was a little intimidating. … He’s pretty straightforward and said this is what we have, take it or leave it. You could tell he was all business because if you don’t like to win, don’t go there.” … Asked if he could see himself having fun there, Hargreaves said: “Nah. That’s why I didn’t go.”
Miami: “That was interesting to go back there. What I didn’t like about it was that everything was the same. I remembered everything. … I could only see myself there as a kid running around. Not playing in college.”
Clemson: “I liked Clemson. There’s a lot of good people there. In my eyes, every college … it’s the same thing, just different colors. It’s just the people who you’re around.”
Oregon: ”I loved Oregon. If someone says they don’t love Oregon, they’re lying. Unless they’re from Oregon. I really loved everything. The facilities. They have great players, great coaches. All of that. But for me, that was just too far.”
Stanford: “Stanford was very interesting. There was no humidity. USC and Stanford, all of that was too far for me. I realized that when I got home. I couldn’t do that twice a year. And I wanted more people to see me play. I’m not a Stanford guy.”
Ohio State: “I already had a little hate for them because of Miami (dating back to the 2003 BCS championship game won by the Buckeyes in overtime). I liked Coach Urban (Meyer). I liked him a lot. Then I saw the national championship and I was like, oh, I don’t like him anymore. … I’d rather go to Michigan. I should’ve gone there instead of Ohio State. I’m definitely not going to Ohio State.”
More of Hargreaves, uncut:
On the rise of Twitter: Hargreaves has more than 5,000 Twitter followers, where he mostly engages in playful banter with classmates, local friends and other top recruits. But he said he started the account with help from teammate Chase Litton last summer, shortly after it was clear that it’d be easier to deal with the crush of coaches and recruiting websites who constantly called and text-messaged him for updates. “If I was going on a (college) visit, I would do it through Twitter so everyone would know what it was. They way people didn’t have to call me or text me. That was way easier. I basically put my top five (college choices) on Twitter …to shut everyone up really.”
On the death of Facebook: Hargreaves said he deleted his Facebook account a few months ago, and didn’t know someone had set up a fan page on there. His father said most college assistant coaches have already learned that Facebook is an unreliable way to make contacts with recruits. “The fad is over with. From a recruiting standpoint, we’re trying to figure out the best way to get a hold of these dudes. It ain’t Facebook. You never get them on there. We started finding out that Facebook isn’t it. And nobody answers their phone anymore.” However, Hargreaves said that he’ll pick up the phone for most coaches. “Most of the time, I don’t have numbers saved so then I’ll assume it’s a reporter. But I save most of the coaches’ numbers. I’ll talk to coaches all day because they don’t have to call you.”
On whether his father ever recruited someone the caliber of his son: An assistant at the University of Miami from 1998-2005, Vernon Jr. played a big role in landing D.J. Williams of California’s De Le Salle High School — the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit in 2000. “He was going to Florida State,” Hargreaves Jr. said. “But he went to Florida State and saw it was in Tallahassee. He wanted to be near the water.” Williams went on to become an NFL first-round draft pick in 2004 and now plays for the Denver Broncos.
On finally winning over his father: Not long after Hargreaves got an offer from USF before his junior year, he finally overheard his father describing him in terms used on only a handful of top recruits over the year. From the living room, Hargreaves quietly listened in on a phone conversation his father was having on the patio. “I heard him say, ‘Yeah, he’s a stud.’ That was the first time that he called me that.” Explained his mother: “His father doesn’t give out compliments freely. Especially to him. So if he complimented him, he knew he must have done something really good.”
On the assorted challenges of being a lockdown cornerback: “It’s so much easier to guard a bigger receiver. Because I know I can jump with anybody. I’d so much rather guard a Travis (Johnson of Jesuit) than an Alvin (Bailey of Armwood).” Bailey, a fellow Florida commitment, beat Hargreaves for a long catch during the Under Armour combine last winter. “He made a good catch. I was in good position. It ain’t like he burned me,” Hargreaves said.
Also on the Internet is video of Hargreaves facing former Berkeley Prep star and USC freshman Nelson Agholor in one-on-one drills from two summers ago. Hargreaves shut out the older Agholor, tipping away one pass and smothering him along the sideline on another. “I was surprised,” Hargreaves said. “He’s the best receiver I’ve ever covered. Without a doubt. I didn’t want to get embarrassed. … He stills texts me a lot and tells me to keep my confidence up. He’s one of my good friends.”
On Armwood star, USC recruit and former Team Tampa teammate Leon McQuay III: “I think he’s the best athlete in the country. You just have to see the things that he can do at practice. He’ll do something that you’ll never even think of.” Hargreaves then describes a moment from a 7-on-7 tournament at USF. “The ref throws the flag, he jumps up in the middle of the air and throws it off the field. And everyone else was like, ‘Did he really just do that? ’”
Other notes of interest:
• Hargreaves’ mother said New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, a family friend from his days at Miami, used to babysit Vernon and Chanelle. Another former Miami standout, Indianapolis Colts receive Reggie Wayne, checks in with the family from time to time. “He calls our (oldest daughter and UF student, Carina) ‘Pie,’” she said, a childhood nickname bestowed upon her by Hargreaves Jr. … “I trust all those guys,” Vernon Jr., said. “They were all good kids.”
• Wharton defensive coordinator Kiwaukee Thomas, a former NFL defensive back, thinks Hargreaves will eventually grow into a safety in college. “I think he’s going to grow. His father was a LB and any time he touches a weight, another muscle pops out. I think he’s a ball-hawk type, like (Baltimore Ravens safety) Ed Reed. He doesn’t like me saying that. But his mom says he doesn’t eat that much because he doesn’t want to gain too much weight.”
• At this point, Hargreaves Jr. remains the most accomplished football player in the family. He was named a member of Connecticut’s 100th Anniversary Team, which commemorates the best football players in the program’s first century. He was also inducted into the inaugural class of New Haven (Conn.) James Hillhouse High’s Athletic Hall of fame following several all-state honors as a prep standout in the late 1970s. He recruitment, however, was nothing like his son’s. “I took one trip — to UConn,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about recruiting. I had this big idea of playing for Michigan. But I was too small, too short and too slow. So it wasn’t gonna work.”
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jdhometeam.