By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
Growing up in a small town in North Carolina, Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave always knew he wanted to be a professional athlete. It was a dream he ultimately realized, but not without a few challenges.
Although he was a standout athlete in multiple sports at North Rowan High School, and a decent student, his test scores turned out to be problematic for many colleges, but South Carolina State, one of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), welcomed him – and provided him the tools he needed to be on par with his peers.
Once there, Hargrave knew he was in the right place where he could pursue his academics, as well as his goal of one day playing in the NFL. He excelled and was named a Freshman All-American, and was twice named an Associated Press All-American. He found the environment at South Carolina to be one that was both enriching and encouraging. There were other differences that were apparent, but instilled a greater appreciation in Hargrave.
“We didn’t have things like the bigger schools. It’s an older college so, there wasn’t a lot of brand new stuff,” Hargrave said. “Some of the things that the bigger schools have made us appreciate it more. And, overall, [HBCUs] are a benefit. Coming from a small town and a small school, being able to have relationships with my teachers helped me.”
He pointed out that while HBCUs don’t have the same public profile as some larger and more prominent schools, they often provide opportunities the others don’t as in his case, being able to get a full scholarship to start him on the path to making his future happen.
And in 2016, the Steelers saw what they wanted and selected Hargrave in the third round of the NFL Draft. That moment was made even more special by the fact that, since childhood, Hargrave had been, along with much of his family, a Steelers fan. On opening day, Hargrave, a rookie, stepped on the field as the team’s starting nose tackle and was overwhelmed.
“That first time on Heinz Field, it was crazy,” Hargrave recalled. “I can’t even explain it. That moment, wow.”
And the fact that he came from an HBCU and not one of the bigger schools, made no difference to his teammates or his coaches once he was in the Steelers locker room and doing his job.
“Nobody cares where you’re from,” he said. “What you do on the field is what’s important.”
Hargrave’s journey not only impacted him, it has also impacted many others.
“I know there’s a lot of people looking at me,” he said. “I give them hope. There’s a lot of people who [contact me] and tell me I motivated them. There’s a lot of people counting on me that I’m motivating. No matter where you come from, you can get anywhere.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.