Philadelphia Eagles’ Javon Hargrave savors trip to Super Bowl after having career year
South Carolina State alum recorded highs in sacks and fumble recoveries
PHOENIX – After the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss in the NFC wild-card round last year, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave headed to Arizona to train for the 2022-23 NFL season.
While the former defensive lineman from South Carolina State spent the offseason lifting weights to get stronger, doing Pilates to get limber and honing his defensive techniques, he watched State Farm Stadium crews start preparing to host Super Bowl LVII and hoped the work he was putting in would bring him back.
“I remember them building all this stuff, getting ready for the Super Bowl,” Hargrove told Andscape. “The offseason is where you get ready for the season, so I kind of take the time to come out here because I can get away from everybody and just grind with no distractions. Now it’s just a surreal moment being here. … [I’m] looking around just trying to enjoy the moment while being locked in, but I know it’s a big accomplishment.”
Hargrave, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers before signing with the Eagles in 2020, has thrived on the Eagles’ defensive line. This season he recorded career highs in sacks (11) and fumble recoveries (two) and tallied 60 total tackles.
“In Pittsburgh, I didn’t really play as much like I’m playing in Philadelphia, but when I got to Philly, they just cut me loose. They put me in good situations to win,” Hargrave said. “I just grew up. I think Pittsburgh helped me, too, but I grew up here in Philadelphia, just being consistent and, like I say, sticking to my routine.”
With seven years of experience, Hargrave is among the most senior players from a historically Black college or university in the NFL; only Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Terron Armstead (Arkansas-Pine Bluff) and Chicago Bears linebacker Joe Thomas (South Carolina State) have been in the league longer, with 10 and eight years, respectively.
“I always have an underdog mindset, just going to work and putting my head down. Just going to a small school and it’s kind of like you don’t get as much attention as bigger schools, so it always creates that little underdog mentality,” Hargrave said. “I put in a lot of work, dedication and a lot of consistency. Just trying to stay on track because I train every offseason. So I’d be here for the Super Bowl. That just reminds me what I put in.”
Learning how to care for his body is the key to having longevity in the league, he said. Hargrave developed a regimen of exercise and meal planning to help maintain his weight and stamina during the season. Eagles defensive line coach Tracy Rocker has noticed a difference in Hargrave’s body and play this season compared with last year.
“His body has changed. He even talks about this, he’s more in tune to his body. I will say what has improved over that is pass rushing, a sense of urgency. He is on fire,” Rocker said. “I think a lot of times some underestimate his body type [and] how good of an athlete this guy is.”
Rocker praises Hargrave for coming to position meetings with a notebook and pen ready to break down opposing teams’ defenses, which Rocker believes sets an example for younger players. Even as a veteran himself, Hargrave still learns from other team veterans, such as defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
“I’m there with him every day. We almost pulled up at the same time at work every day. We always talk to each other, we motivate each other. There’s the work that we’ve both put in, especially him,” Cox said. “I see him all the time taking care of his body, trying to find ways to get better and asking questions. For him, that’s why this year was a very special year for him.”
Veteran linemen Cox and Brandon Graham were on the Eagles’ roster when they won Super Bowl LII in 2018 against the New England Patriots.
“With Fletch [Cox], you kind of just get a lot of knowledge from him. He’s somebody who already done won a Super Bowl, a player who’s been doing this for a long time. So I just kind of take things out of his game and put them in my game,” Hargrave said. “They tell us what they had to do to get there [to a Super Bowl win]. … I think it just helped us get this far.”
The depth of the defensive line has created a competition among the linemen to get sacks. The Eagles’ defensive unit, consisting of Cox, Graham, Hargrave, Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat, have combined for 56 sacks this season.
“To see him going into his contract year and having his best season, getting double digits [in sacks] for the first time, me being right there when I’m getting them with him, just a lot of us, you know, have some personal bests,” Graham said. “So, it’s been cool because all in all it has been just us working well together.”
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni and Rocker preach that games are won and lost based on the battle of the defensive and offensive lines. Although six-time Pro Bowler Cox, Sweat and Reddick get most of the attention, Rocker knows the line wouldn’t be as dominant without the play of Hargrave. Rocker said Hargrave helps Cox, Graham and Reddick and vice versa.
“Hargrave may not get all the accolades and things that we think he should, but it’s one thing everyone in that room recognizes how important he is to each of their games,” Rocker said. “He’s a force.”
When North Carolina A&T cornerback Franklin “Mac” McCain III joined the team in 2021 as a practice player, Hargrave took the opportunity to build a relationship with McCain. Although many of their conversations focus on lighthearted debates about whose alma mater is better, their interactions have inspired McCain.
“I look up to him because he came from where I came from [an HBCU], and if he can do it, I can do it,” McCain said. “Having him on the team is motivation for me.”
As a Steelers player, Hargrave didn’t have another HBCU player on his team, but he reached out to former South Carolina State teammate Joe Thomas as a sounding board.
“Joe Thomas, he was already in the league before me. He went to South Carolina State, too. I kind of talked to him a lot when I was coming out,” Hargrave said. “We just know what it takes, you know, where we come from. And it’s just big to have somebody who has been where you have been and made it out. So, you know, just to have somebody who has done it and can kind of give you advice on how to make it in the league has helped me a lot.”
Hargrave, who was inducted into South Carolina State’s Hall of Fame in 2022, is one of several current NFL players taught by the university’s head football coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough, including Thomas (Chicago Bears), Cobie Durant (Los Angeles Rams), Shaquille Leonard (Indianapolis Colts) and Antonio Hamilton (Arizona Cardinals). Pough holds up Hargrave as a model for prospective South Carolina State players to emulate.
“We are still recruiting players now, and we use the Javon Hargraves of the world to, you know, give us an example of what you can do if you go through our program correctly,” Pough said. “You have the same opportunities.”
Hargrave believes the success of alumni in the NFL helps inspire other players from HBCUs.
“I just think it gives [them] hope,” he said. “I think my biggest thing coming into the NFL was seeing other HBCU players that made it the first time I went to South Carolina State. They have all the NFL players on a wall when you go in. So being able to see people who did it before me kind of helped me get where I’m at.”