ORANGEBURG, S.C. — When they talk about BC in Orangeburg, S.C., they’re discussing Bethune-Cookman, not Boston College.
South Carolina State defensive lineman Javon Hargrave, who starred at North Rowan, thinks about Bethune-Cookman a lot because Bethune-Cookman won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship in 2012, even though South Carolina State’s Bulldogs had Bethune-Cookman’s Wildcats down 14-0 after the first quarter.
B-C rallied to win 27-14. Hargrave still has nightmares about it.
When the MEAC coaches and sports information directors gathered recently in Norfolk, Va., they tabbed Bethune-Cookman as the favorite to repeat. They voted tradition-rich South Carolina State second. As if that weren’t enough motivation, it’s been mentioned daily by S.C. State coaches that the Bulldogs will be Bethune-Cookman’s guest for homecoming festivities in Dayton Beach, Fla., on Oct. 26.
“The coaches keep saying how they’ve got us set up for homecoming,” Hargrave said. “We just don’t get along with Bethune-Cookman very well. South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman is a rivalry like North Rowan and Salisbury.”
The huge (and still growing) Hargrave (6-foot-2, 305 pounds) has a prep past to be proud of. In his days at North, he was nimble enough to be one of the standouts on a state-championship basketball team. On the football field, he recovered more fumbles (18) than anyone in Rowan County history. Then he was the most oustanding defensive player in the 2011 East-West All-Star Game while playing for then-Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan.
Still, when he headed to S.C. State, Hargrave had more doubters than touters.After all, he’d played mostly against 1A competition in high school, and it wasn’t like he would be tossing around undersized Yadkin Valley Conference linemen in college.
After a redshirt year in 2011, Hargrave had almost slipped off everyone’s radar, but then came 2012.
He didn’t start the opener, but by the second game — the one against Bethune-Cookman — he was in the lineup. He was there to stay. When all was said and done, he’d made 45 tackles (fourth on the team), and he was credited with three sacks. The College Sports Journal put Hargrave on its Freshman All-America team.
“I think I surprised people, being from little ol’ North Rowan,” Hargrave said with a chuckle. “When the season started, I was just hoping to play some. I thought I’d come off the bench. I didn’t know what to expect, but I kind of went from nobody to somebody.”
It was a wild ride. South Carolina State racked up frequent-flyer miles early. Hargrave got worn out in the heat at Arizona, and he tackled Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He also was instrumental in MEAC wins against Norfolk State and Florida A&M.
“It felt like we were flying all over the world last season,” Hargrave said. “Those long plane flights tire you out, but it was a great experience. We learned a lot.”
And a lot of people learned a lot about Hargrave. No longer an unknown, he’s a first-teamer on the All-MEAC preseason squad and he’s also first team on the preseason squad named by HBCU Gameday.
“It’s definitely a way different feeling this year with people expecting me to do well,” Hargrave said. “But as different as it feels, I’m still hungry. I’ll always stay hungry.”
MEAC teams certainly will spend time scheming to block No. 97 this season. Hargrave probably wasn’t in a lot of scouting reports last season, but he’ll be in all of them this time. He won’t sneak up on anyone. His coaches have warned him about that, and he knows he has to be prepared for the best shots of opposing linemen.
“I understand all that, but I honestly believe I’ll have a better year,” Hargrave said. “I’ve worked to get in better shape and I’ve gotten stronger. I went to the beach for a week, but other than that it’s just been nothing but workouts, and I’ve been down here since June. I don’t think I’ll tire out as much, and I know I’m more mature and more experienced.”
Officially, Hargrave is a defensive tackle, but he could line up inside or outside in S.C. State’s 3-4 defense. He’s strong enough to take on double-teams in the middle, but he’s agile enough to rush the passer outside.
“I’ll probably play all around the line,” he said.
South Carolina State’s schedule is significantly saner this year. Hargrave won’t have to chase Manziel. His most hazardous outing figures to be a Sept. 7 trip to Clemson’s Death Valley, where Tajh Boyd will be quarterbacking the Tigers.
“We might be playing against the Heisman winner two years in a row,” Hargrave said cheerfully.
South Carolina State’s camp officially began Saturday, and it’s been two-a-days all week for Hargrave as the Bulldogs prepare to open on Aug. 31 against Coastal Carolina.
“The plan is just to stay healthy and to keep working as hard as I can,” Hargrave said. “Usually that work pays off.”
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