GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jalen Tabor has been overshadowed the past two years at Florida by star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, a first-round pick in April’s NFL draft.
Tabor fully emerged from that shadow Tuesday in New York City. The Gators gave him his own media day in the Big Apple, and he took center stage in a way Hargreaves never did.
“Our UF media team put it together,” Tabor said on a conference call about his NYC takeover. “They’ve been working on it for some time and they just needed the right guy to do it.”
Linebacker Jarrad Davis may be the face of Florida football, but Tabor is its mouthpiece. He has become the most outspoken athlete in college football, whether it involves Tennessee trash talk or taking a stand on social issues.
“Some athletes, they shy away from the media and they don’t want to talk,” Tabor said. “That’s not the case with me.”
But Tabor is known more for his social media presence than his interactions with reporters, which have always went well. However, his Twitter hot takes have not.
He’s had to apologize for some tweets, including his criticism of the University Athletic Association for a one-game suspension last season. But Tabor has matured immensely since that happened, learning to take advantage of the platforms he has through college football, the UAA and social media.
“That was one of the biggest lessons I learned in life, not being able to play against Tennessee last year,” Tabor said. “That really changed me as a young man and made me grow up a lot.
“I have pretty good logic (on social media) to know what to say, what not to say and how to say to it. Sometimes I’m a little overboard … but I want to let my voice be heard.”
Tabor, a preseason pick on the All-SEC first team, has entered a realm few amateur athletes reach. He’s recognized as much for his brand and image as he is for his athletic abilities.
And while you may not always agree with his views, Tabor keeps his name in the news and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Some schools ban their players from Twitter, but Florida coach Jim McElwain and the UAA haven’t tried to censor or silence Tabor.
Instead, they’re broadcasting him to America. He’s bigger than SEC Media Days.
“Big lights, big city and a big stage — that’s me,” Tabor said.
Tabor has surpassed Hargreaves in popularity, and many feel he’s more talented than him as well. Statistically, Tabor was Florida’s most productive cornerback in 2015.
Tabor is also more advanced than Hargreaves in another area. Hargreaves hated doing interviews and being in front of a camera. He even turned down a one-on-one sit down with Tim Tebow on SEC Network.
Tabor gets it.
“I’m real comfortable in front of the media,” Tabor said. “This can help me in the long run, just opening up doors outside of football. I feel like if you use the media the right way, you can set yourself up for life after football or life during football.
“You can connect with people through social media and through the media. … That’s my whole goal behind it. I feel like God put me in this position for a reason. I’m an outspoken kid, and why not be outspoken in the position that I’m in?”
Tabor has undergone quite a transformation in the past 10 months. He understands his off-the-field behavior and social media conduct holds just as much weight in the public eye as a pick-six.
“Since I got to UF till now, I mean I was an 18-year old kid coming out of the inner city. I was really naive to the world,” Tabor said. “The University of Florida, just everybody around me taught me how to grow up.
“Even at a young age, if you’re playing college football, you’re on a national scale. Everything you do is on a national scale. You can’t just say you’re 18 anymore. I had to grow up and grow up fast, but I feel like it’s paying off.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.