Competition drives Florida Gators’ Jalen Tabor

Jalen Tabor signed with Florida months ago Vernon Hargreaves III was named a Freshman All-American. Almost two years later, the two are battling it out for the title of the Gators’ best cornerback.

When the Gators are preparing for a game, Hargreaves and Tabor like to add some trash talk to the defensive side of the ball. The conversation about which one is the better cornerback goes back and forth between them.

“I feel like when I’m on my game, I think I’m the best,” Tabor said. “Everybody thinks Vernon’s the best, but I feel like when I’m on and when I’m doing what I got to do, I feel like I’m the best.”

Tabor, a sophomore, knows that he’s fighting an uphill battle in the public perception. Hargreaves has the accolades, the NFL Draft talk and the opposing offense’s full attention in the week of preparation. Both were highly recruited cornerbacks that were high school All-Americans when they signed with Florida.

Hargreaves has the advance on paper with four interceptions to Tabor’s two. Tabor, however, has a 7-1 advantage in the pass breakup category. And as Tabor likes to remind Hargreaves, he has scored touchdowns on both of his interceptions while Hargreaves hasn’t found the end zone yet.

“We go back and forth all do, but we’re making each other better,” Tabor said. “That’s why I’m glad I came here, just to be alongside him. Teams talk about him and people talk about him. But I’m just a guy in disguise, nobody really knows about me yet. I feel like I can play just as good of ball.”

Tabor showed flashes of his potential last season as a freshman. He earned his first start in the fourth game of the year against Tennessee and was named co-Freshman of the Week with one sack, one forced fumble and recovery, and one pass breakup. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team, providing highlights like a one-handed interception at Vanderbilt.

He was satisfied with his freshman season, but Tabor knew there was more to improve. He started to feel it coming together in the spring by standing out and making plays in the secondary. Tabor started to think during the summer that if he spent extra time in the film room and continued to take the weight room seriously, he would be able to have an All-American level season. That’s when things started to change and Tabor reached the high level he’s playing at now.

“I’m just hanging with the right crowd, being grounded, working on my game and watching a lot more film,” Tabor said. “When I see it on film, then my natural instincts kick in during the game because I’ve seen it on film. That’s why I got two pick-sixes because I was able to read it, jump it and then just let my athletic ability take over. It’s just being more mature as a whole that has just elevated my game.”

The friendly competition with Hargreaves has also played a factor. They see it as pushing each other to be the best and helping the unit produce more on the field. As they continue to battle about who is the best cornerback on the team, there’s no question about who is the leader of the cornerback position.

Hargreaves is the most vocal of the group, and that combined with his production catches the attention of the other cornerbacks. Hargreaves pushes them in practice to continue playing well.

“He stays on me,” Tabor said. “He never lets me just chill and relax. If I get a ball thrown on me in practice, he’s livid. He sees more in me than I probably see in myself. He just wants the best for me. And him being there is just a big plus knowing I can just watch every day in practice to see what he does and just implement it in my game.” 

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