Hargrave met ‘Johnny Football’ early
SALISBURY — South Carolina State nose tackle Javon Hargrave had a big-time icebreaker to use at recent Christmas parties.
Something along the lines of, “Hi, my name’s Javon, and I sacked Johnny Football.”
Hargrave, a former North Rowan star who completed his redshirt freshman season at South Carolina State in November, encountered Johnny Football — Heisman Trophy-winning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel — on Sept. 22, when S.C. State’s Bulldogs traveled to College Station to play in front of 86,775 fans.
“It’s not like we didn’t have a scouting report on the guy, but I think I was the first one to really notice how good he was,” Hargrave said with a chuckle.
Well, one of the first, anyway.
SMU had already found out by then. Manziel, a 2010 prep phenom who redshirted in 2011 behind current Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, hadn’t done anything crazy in Texas A&M’s openening loss to Florida. But then he’d accounted for six TDs, 294 passing yards and 124 rushing yards against SMU in his second outing.
S.C. State was Game 3 on the schedule for Johnny Football.
S.C. state already had played three times and had been battered 56-0 at Arizona the week before it headed to College Station.
“Arizona was my toughest week all year,” Hargrave said. “They had a fast-paced offense and a real fast center and it felt like I was getting triple-teamed every play. That was the toughest one as far as getting out of bed the next morning.”
The Texas A&M game couldn’t have been a barrel of fun, either. The final was 70-14. It was only 14-7 briefly, but then Manziel broke back-to-back, long scoring runs.
The game log leaves no doubt Hargrave tackled Manziel, although the official statistician didn’t credit him with a sack. The Bulldogs did have two sacks, however, and Hargrave will swear on a stack of Bibles or pancakes — take your pick — that he was in on one of those sacks. He can give you the play-by-play.
“Johnny was juking one of my teammates, and another one of my teammates grabbed him, and then I finished that play up,” Hargrave explained cheerfully. “Everyone was saying for a while that Johnny just lit it up because he was playing us, but I could tell how good he was. And then he started lighting up the nation.”
While Hargrave didn’t light up the nation, his first college season was successful.
He was a tremendous athlete at North Rowan where he earned conference player of the year honors in both football and basketball during his prep career. He was a Charles Barkley-type hoopster, amazingly nimble for someone with such a thick, powerful body, and he was instrumental in North’s charge to the 1A state title in 2011.
He scored 903 points and ranks 10th on the all-time scoring list at a school where there’s been no shortage of athletes.
As far as football, he set school and county records for fumble recoveries in a season (eight) and career (18).
When he signed with S.C. State, he expected his future to be at defensive end, but he now checks in at 6-foot-2, 295 pounds. That’s why the Bulldogs have made him a nose tackle.
“Playing nose was a surprise to me, but I really like it better than playing on the outside,” Hargrave said.
He wasn’t eligible until he got some academic requirements sorted out with the NCAA clearinghouse. That’s why he didn’t play in 2011.
“But that worked out for the best,” Hargrave said. “I’m glad I had that year to get ready. It made me hungrier. It made me want it more.”
When S.C. State opened this season with a win against Georgia State in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, Hargrave was a backup, but he did well enough that he was inserted into the starting lineup by his second college game.
Like the rest of the Bulldogs, he survived those mismatches with Arizona and Texas A&M, and grew from it.
“Games like Arizona and Texas A&M you take a pounding, and there’s a real toll on your body,” Hargrave said. “I wasn’t used to anything like that. Those games woke me up to college football. The good thing was the rest of the season was easier.”
S.C. State finished a respectable 5-6, and Hargrave was an impact player several times. He had six tackles when the Bulldogs shut out Norfolk State and he had nine in a hard-fought loss against North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.
His biggest game was a struggle with Florida A&M in Tallahassee.
“That was my best because I had a big sack in overtime that really won that game for us,” Hargrave said.
He’s not kidding. In overtime, Florida A&M had second-and-9 at the S.C. State 12 when Hargrave broke through for a sack of 8 yards. That made it third-and-17, and two incomplete passes later, the Bulldogs were winners.
For the season, Hargrave had 45 tackles to rank among the team leaders, and he has the talent to move into the the mix for All-MEAC accolades in years to come.
“I gained a lot of experience this sesason,” Hargrave said. “My last years in high school we were playing 1A, so this was a huge change, but I know now what to expect. I’d get tired a lot this season, but I’m going to do more running and lifting before my sophomore season.”
Hargrave also expects to be better prepared mentally.
“Film study is really important if you’re going to succeed in college,” he said. “That’s one of the things I had to learn.”
Hargrave won’t be studying film this Friday. He plans to be watching Oklahoma try to contain Manziel in the Cotton Bowl.
Needless to say, he’ll remind everyone within earshot that he knows what it’s like to tackle a Heisman hero.
“I’ve been bragging on myself about that for a while,” Hargrave said. “I hope I can do it a little more.”