GAINESVILLE -- Freshmen defensive backs Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal haven’t preformed like newcomers during training camp, and both appear ready to be impact players for the Gators.
Hargreaves and Neal are two of Florida’s most heralded freshmen from its 2013 recruiting class, and in just two weeks of practice the pair has already made steady strides to compete for immediate playing time.
Hargreaves, a former five-star cornerback and No. 2 recruit in the nation, is exceeding already lofty preseason expectations, turning heads in a talented and crowded unit.
“He’ll have every opportunity in the world to play early,” coach Will Muschamp said.
“He is mature. He understands the game, is very cerebral in his approach. He’s got great instincts. … Good ball skills down the field and is outstanding in man coverage.”
Despite boasting a deep cornerback unit that includes NFL-caliber talent Louchiez Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin echoed Muschamp’s sentiment, saying, “Vernon will play for us this year.”
Durkin also raved about Hargreaves’ potential, saying, “You see him out there. I can’t say he’s a pleasant surprise to us. That was our plan with him going in. ...We think he’s a phenomenal player.”
Durkin called Hargreaves, who is currently hampered by a mild shoulder sprain, a very intelligent player, something Purifoy also highlighted.
“He just came in smart,” Florida’s junior cornerback said. “He knows a lot. He has good technique. Just got to work on communicating. … But when I came in I didn’t know as much as he knows. He’s a good kid.”
Meanwhile, Neal’s rapid emergence has been a little more unanticipated. The 6-1, 204-pound safety wasn’t actually the top safety prospect in Florida’s most recent recruiting class.
Marcell Harris, a 6-2, 220-pound battering ram, came to UF as the more hyped recruit and the one many presumed would play right away.
But while Harris has struggled with the traditional freshman learning curve, it’s Neal who is competing for a starting spot and has quickly inserted himself into the rotation.
During Thursday’s open practice, Neal delivered a crushing hit on freshman running back Adam Lane, and the large crowd erupted in delight.
“He’s a young guy that can do some things,” Durkin said. “He is a very physical player. He plays fast, reacts fast. That guy has all the things you want a safety to have. We’re thrilled to have him.”
Although redshirt junior Cody Riggs has had a strong camp, distancing himself as one of Florida’s prospective starting safeties, even Riggs is impressed with the freshmen’s promise.
“They look good,” he said. “They’re still young, so they’re learning the defense, but they’re going to be really good players in the future.”