Pro football: Javon Hargrave continues to live the dream

Published 12:02 am Sunday, August 7, 2022

By Mike London

PHILADELPHIA — The dollars are nice, but the competition is what Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave lives for.

“Best part of being in the NFL is playing in front of 50,000 or more fans,” Hargrave said. “You’re in this arena, the whole world is watching, and when you’re able to make a play the whole place goes crazy. There’s nothing like hearing that roar.”

Hargrave has made quite a few plays over the years. And he’s heard the crowd roar a lot — at North Rowan High, at South Carolina State, with the Pittsburgh Steelers (who drafted him) and now with the Eagles, who signed him to a $39 million contract in 2020.

He’s posted 26.5 NFL sacks and he’s made 149 solo tackles. He’s firmly established himself as one of the NFL’s most durable and most effective interior pass-rushers. In the 2021 season, he was second among defensive tackles in quarterback hurries with 58. His 18 quarterback hits were third-best in the league.

He was a Pro Bowler for the first time.

“I remember being a kid watching the Pro Bowls in Hawaii, dreaming about playing in one,” Hargrave said. “Getting the chance to actually be part of it, that meant a lot to me, it really did. It was so much fun and I  met some great players for the first time — too many guys to name.”

And they got to meet him. He belonged on the big stage.

“After the Pro Bowl, I was like, ‘Dang, I did it; I really did it,’ ” Hargrave said with a chuckle. “All the Pro Bowl stuff happened during my birthday, so that made it even more special.”

Early in the 2021 season, Hargrave was so dominant, it appeared he might break records and shorten the life expectancy of every quarterback. The sacks and the disruption slowed down some in the second half of the season, as he played through a shoulder injury and as he started seeing double-team blocking every week. He still set personal season highs for sacks and tackles for loss.

“I know the stats look like I slowed down some, but whenever we watched the film, I was still winning my matchup, still getting after it,” Hargrave said. “That never changed.”

Time flies.  Hargrave is now entering the final season of his three-year deal with the Eagles.

Fans are hopeful the Eagles will work out a contract extension with one of their most productive and popular players, but Hargrave said there’s been little talk about a new contract. He’s not losing sleep over the silence. If the Eagles don’t extend  him, another team is going to get a really good player. At 29, he should have at least one more massive contract to look forward to.

“I really like Philly, the city and the team, and I love our defensive scheme, so my first choice would be to continue to play here,” Hargrave said.  “I’m not going to stress about what’s coming next after this season.  Yeah, this is a contract year, but I’ve always looked at every season that I’ve played in the NFL as a contract year. I’ll ball out for the Eagles, and whatever happens, happens.”

 When Hargrave became a free agent after his time with the Steelers, things worked out quite well financially for the former third-round draft pick. That experience helps him stay calm and collected now.

Hargave has been introduced to his potential replacement in the Eagles’ camp. Enormous rookie Jordan Davis, a former Georgia Bulldog who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 340 or so, was a first-round pick by the Eagles.

“He’s from Charlotte (Mallard Creek High), so we’ve had a lot to talk about with both of us being from the 704 (area code),” Hargrave said. He’s huge and he’s good. I’ll pass on my knowledge to him.”

While NFL training camps are challenging for most 300-pounders, Hargrave already punished himself physically before he arrived. Training camp is almost a vacation for him.

“I did what I do every year, go to Arizona to train for six weeks before we report to camp, and I just went crazy out there with my workouts,” Hargrave said. “Lots of running, lots of pilates, even some boxing. By the time I got to Philly,  I was ready for the season.”

Philadelphia will welcome the New York Jets on Aug. 12 to open the preseason schedule.

Aside from the NFL, it was a big summer for Hargrave. He got the call from South Carolina State in early July informing him that he would be honored by the university with Hall of Fame induction.

That was bound to happen at some point. Hargrave had 37 sacks, 63 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and 210 tackles for the Bulldogs, who were his only Division I option coming out of high school.

Still, he’s awfully young to be a Hall of Famer.

“South Carolina State did a lot for me, and I knew I would probably get to be in the Hall of Fame one day,” Hargrave said. “But it was a shock to get that call so soon. Nice, but a shock.”

As a youngster, Hargrave was a big kid with a big heart and big hopes.

Unbelievable success in the world’s highest league hasn’t changed him or spoiled him. Each day he continues to walk in his dream.