Pro Football: Local hero Hargrave is living the dream

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 1, 2016

By Mike London

Javon Hargrave became the highest draft pick ever from North Rowan High on Friday when the Pittsburgh Steelers chose him in the third round.
He was the first Cavalier drafted since the Miami Dolphins took Lenoir-Rhyne receiver Shannon Myers during the seventh round in 1995.
“As a Steelers fan my whole life, draft night was perfect,” Hargrave said by phone from Pittsburgh. “Just too perfect.”
Hargrave was rated highly by draft experts and respected publications, and he liked his chances of hearing his name called Friday night when the NFL conducted the second and third rounds of its draft.
“I was hoping second round, but I was thinking probably third and maybe fourth,” Hargrave said. “I was hoping it wouldn’t be the fourth. It would’ve been real tough to wait another day.”
The 6-foot-1, 309-pound Hargrave wanted the draft to be memorable for his family. That’s why everyone ended up at Charlotte’s 10 Park Lanes, a combination bowling alley/sports bar.
The game plan was to eat, bowl, eat some more — and celebrate.
“Javon likes to bowl and it was a way for him to get away from the pressure a little bit and relax and try to enjoy the moment,” said Tim Bates, Hargrave’s dad. “We watched the draft on a big TV screen, and we bowled and we bowled and we bowled.”
The family was there, including aunts and uncles.
Javon’s little brother, T.J. Bates, a basketball player at Johnson C. Smith, was present. In 2010, when North Rowan won the 1A basketball state championship, Javon and T.J. were key players, and Tim was one of Andrew Mitchell’s assistant coaches.
“T.J. was wearing Javon’s jersey from the NFL Combine,” Tim said. “Some people at the bowling alley found out there was a guy there who might get drafted. They were coming up and looking at T.J. and thinking he didn’t look big enough. We had some fun with that.”
A few high-profile friends were invited to the draft party. Harry Giles was there.
Giles, a touted Duke basketball recruit and a young man who is considered a certain future NBA lottery pick, is one of Javon’s best friends. They grew close as workout partners in Winston-Salem.
“Javon’s nephew was there too,” Tim said. “He kept asking why they hadn’t called his name and asking if Javon was really going to get picked. It was funny for a while. We started out bowling and laughing and having a great time at 7, but then it was 8 and Javon hadn’t been picked, and then it was 8:30.”
By 8:30, Javon had stopped bowling and had started pacing.
By 9, Javon was talking to himself — “OK, OK, OK” — and taking deep breaths.
By 10, Javon was turning down his favorite foods. That’s when everyone started to worry a little bit.
“It was hard to have much of an appetite,” Javon explained.
Tim hadn’t said anything out loud, but he’d anticipated Javon being drafted in the second round by the Steelers.
Many NFL teams had dispatched coaches to scout Javon’s Pro Day at South Carolina State, but the Steelers had been the team that was interested in digging beyond the measurable statistics. They were as concerned with Javon’s personality as with his impressive bench press and startling vertical jump (34.5 inches).
Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell had been more than cordial at Pro Day. He’d been friendly and enthusiastic and he’d wanted to meet not only Javon, but his family.
“Coach Mitchell was an impressive person and I could tell how much he liked Javon and wanted Javon to be a Steeler,” Tim said. “He told me he was going to do everything he could to get the Steelers to take him. He told me he’d seen enough of Javon on film to know he could play before he got there, but he’d come to South Carolina to meet him personally.”
For Tim, the Steelers were the dream scenario. He’d become a staunch Steelers fans back in the 1970s, the glory days of Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw and a dozen other greats. He’d passed that love for the Steelers along to his boys.
It had thrilled Tim when Javon had twice won the Mel Blount Award as the defensive player of the year for historically black colleges and universities. Javon and Tim had the opportunity to meet Blount, a cornerback on those great Steelers teams.
Javon also had gotten to know Donnie Shell, a South Carolina State graduate who had become the Steelers’ standout strong safety on Super Bowl squads.
There were all kinds of Pittsburgh connections, but when the Steelers chose Maryland defensive back Sean Davis in the second round, Tim’s heart sank a little bit.
“By 10, everyone at the bowling alley knew Javon was there and they were all rooting for him to get picked, but it hadn’t happened, and we knew the third round would be over around 11,” Tim said. “I was starting to think it might be an awfully long, quiet ride back to Salisbury.”
The 87th pick of the draft was being announced on television, when Tim Bates felt a nudge on his shoulder from T.J. Javon had just walked outside with his phone pressed to his ear.
“I think he just got the call,” T.J. told his father.
Verification of that came a few moments later when Javon strolled back into the bowling alley, grinning from ear to ear and throwing punches at the air. The Steelers had taken him with their third selection. He was the 89th pick of the draft.
“They made a PA announcement that he’d been drafted, and then the whole bowling alley just erupted,” Tim said. “We were all crying like babies and people were running up to us to congratulate and hug Javon. It was a beautiful moment.”
Things got busy almost immediately for Javon after his name was called.
“People were jumping up and down in that bowling alley,” Javon said. “Just crazy for all of us. I’ve never seen anything like it. All that was running through my head was “Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness.’ All that work, and then it happened for me.”
Tim had seen it coming before anyone else did. He saw how competitive the big kid was in driveway basketball games against the best athletes in the neighborhood. And he’d seen the big kid hold his own in races against the little guys who were sprinting for North’s championship track teams.
Then he saw him set the Rowan County record for career fumble recoveries (18) and he watched him win defensive MVP honors in N.C.’s East-West All-Star Game the summer after he graduated from North Rowan.
Then he dominated at South Carolina State, receiving back-to-back awards as the nation’s best defensive player at his level as a junior and senior.
Then he performed admirably in two all-star games against the linemen from major colleges before he wowed scouts with his athleticism at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
And by then, everyone saw draft day coming.
The Steelers see him as a combination defensive end/nose tackle, and he’s in their plans for 2016. The Steelers ranked 21st among NFL defenses in 2015 and were 30th against the pass. Hargrave, who had 13.5 sacks as a senior, will get a chance to help right away.
Javon left that Charlotte bowling alley, his heart still pounding, around 1 a.m. Saturday morning and tried to catch a little sleep at a family member’s home in Charlotte.
“It was kind of hard,” Javon said. “Maybe I slept an hour.”
By 9 a.m., he was flying from Charlotte to Pittsburgh to take part in a six-hour Steelers Fan Fest celebration.
He was exhausted, but he was thrilled, and he was living the dream.