With the strong season came the accolades. He was named a Third Team All-American by the Associated Press and the National Defensive Freshman of the Year by College Football News. All of the publicity and praise could lead him to take it easy this spring and rest after a long season, knowing he has a starting spot locked up in the fall.
But that's not the way Vernon Hargreaves is.
"His biggest talent is his competitive edge and his thirst for being the best player he can be," Will Muschamp said. "Sometimes that's hard. Guys rest on their laurels a little bit, they get patted on the back. He's not a guy you worry about those sort of things. He handles praise and criticism very well. He's not a guy that goes out and takes a day off. He goes out and works every day."
That has translated into Hargreaves becoming the leader of a young secondary. The Gators lost both starting safeties for the second straight season, and corners Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson both decided to leave after their junior seasons and enter the NFL Draft.
The Gators will be inexperienced at the second cornerback position, as Duke Dawson, Brian Poole and Jalen Tabor all battle it out for the job this spring. The safety position will also feature two new starters. When there are questions in the secondary and a leader needs to emerge, it's often Hargreaves.
"He's a great example for our younger players, especially our younger secondary players, of how you approach your business," Muschamp said. "I'm really proud of him in that regard."
ROBINSON MATURING: Demarcus Robinson was supposed to be the threat in the passing game the Gators desperately needed last season. Instead, he didn't mature as fast as was necessary and he ended up facing two separate suspensions throughout the year.This is an important offseason for the ultra talented receiver. The Gators are still searching for playmakers, but he has to stay out of trouble to make that happen.
"We mature different times," Muschamp said. "I think we've seen some strides there. I've been pleased to this point. There's no question from a matchup standpoint, he's a guy that can do some things. There are things like that we've got to continue to iron out. That's part of the maturing process on and off the field."
The on the field part has been pretty simple for Robinson. He was the highlight of practices last season, making impressive catches and showing his ability right after stepping on campus.
"He has done some fantastic things in the passing game," Muschamp said. "He's an explosive receiver. He's a tough match one-on-one because of his size, his athleticism. He's got really good ball skills down the field."
WASHINGTON MOVING AROUND: The Florida coaches didn't waste time finding a role for Nick Washington after he enrolled last summer. They molded him in the image of Jaylen Watkins, a versatile defensive back that could play cornerback, nickel or safety.Most of his work in recent practices has come at safety while Keanu Neal is out with a hamstring injury. His versatility will allow the Gators to move him around during the season should injuries creep into the secondary.
Washington made big plays in the scrimmage over the weekend. He made a big hit at the goal line to save a touchdown and made two interceptions.
"He continues to show up in the right spots and that's a positive thing when you haven't been exposed to the position as much," Muschamp said.