It’s not often a local high school football star is drafted in the NFL.
It’s even less likely for a prep star to be drafted his hometown NFL franchise in the first round of the draft.
But that’s what happened when former Wharton High cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was picked 11th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2016 NFL Draft on April 28.
Hargreaves, who graduated from Wharton High in 2013, still reminisces the three years he spent on the Wildcats’ varsity football team, playing for longtime Wharton head coach, David Mitchell.
“Those were great,” Hargreaves said about his Wharton playing days, during a recorded media conference. “You know, Coach Mitchell’s a great coach. …He taught me how to work hard, he taught me how to be a great player, how to be the best and I’m excited to be back home.”
The opportunity to “be back home” was a dream come true for Hargreaves, who played three collegiate seasons with the Florida Gators before declaring for the NFL Draft.
“It’s surreal. It was the best thing I ever could have asked for,” the two-time All-American said. “It doesn’t get better than to get drafted by your home team. …I’m 40 minutes away from the facilities and it’s great. I can see my mom (Jackie) when I want to now, it’s awesome.”
Hargreaves, the son of Vernon Hargreaves Jr. — a linebackers coach at the University of Arkansas — believes he has the skillset and football acumen to make an immediate impact for the Bucs as a rookie.
“Playing in the SEC (Southeastern Conference) gave me the experience and the opportunity to cover guys of that (NFL) caliber. Seeing them already…gives me a place to start on how I can slow these guys down,” he said.
“I’m very confident in myself, very confident in my abilities.”
Listed at 5-foot-10, some pundits feel Hargreaves lacks the desired height to succeed against taller receivers at the next level.
Jason Licht, Bucs general manager, disagrees with those sentiments.
“There have been a lot of Pro Bowl corners – a lot – that have been his size: 5-10 and a half,” Licht said during the media conference. “Great players come in a lot of different sizes and different packages. We feel that his thickness and his build, he’s a sturdy player, he can press, he can tackle and he’s very quick and athletic and has good ball skills. Vernon is a guy that we feel brings a lot of versatility.”
“I’m just an overall good football player,” Hargreaves said. “Love to play ball, can adapt to any type of defense, any type of receiver. I’ve covered them all. I can play bump-coverage, can play man-coverage. All of that is in my game.”
At Wharton, Hargreaves was widely considered one of, if not, the best high school cornerback in the nation for the 2013 recruiting class. During his time in a Wildcats varsity uniform, Hargreaves racked up 203 tackles and nine interceptions. He was also a standout track athlete, where his long jump (22’ 3.50) ranks second in school history, and his 100-meter dash (11.17 seconds) ranks fifth in school history. His natural athleticism, combined with his on-field football prowess made him a consensus five-star recruit boasting more than 50 college scholarship offers, before he chose the University of Florida.
Though he’s just months removed from his college career and a few years removed from his high school career, Hargreaves isn’t shy about stepping into the NFL spotlight.
“It’s going to be exciting,” he said. “I’m ready to showcase my skills.”
What experts are saying about former Wharton High standout Vernon Hargreaves III:
“He has as many tools and attributes for long-term NFL success as any defensive back in the (2016) draft class: speed, range, aggression, good hands and short-area quickness. If he is able to dial back his more passionate tendencies, avoid thinking too much about contact and focus on his assignment more often, Hargreaves could easily show up as an perennial Pro Bowler and a legit No. 1 shutdown guy.” –Doug Farrar, Sports Illustrated.com
“He’s the best corner maybe I’ve seen in two or three years. Now he’s only 5-foot-10, but he’s thick. Great feet and change of direction. He finds the football in the air.” –Mike Mayock, NFL.com
“Hargreaves is an undersized cornerback who is one of the most instinctive and natural man coverage cornerbacks in the 2016 draft class. …Overall, he has the football intelligence, the movement skills and the willingness in run support to develop into a quality starting cornerback outside the hashes or become one of the better nickelbacks in the NFL.” –Kevin Weidl, ESPN.com
“Hargreaves plays with a decisive reactor to maintain proper positioning and make plays on the ball (38 career passes defended), but his timing and spacing have room for improvement. Although he has only ordinary size, Hargreaves is above average in three main areas for the position: play speed, instincts and competitive toughness.” –Rob Rang, CBSSports.com
“He does it all—tackles, passes defensed. He has the hands to flip the field and create turnovers. But, what I like most about him is his explosion and agility on short routes. He takes away targets…and I think he’s going to be a playmaker because of that in the NFL.” -Matt Miller, BleacherReport.com
Published May 11, 2016