August 15, 2011

Hargrove poised for strong senior season

There are two colors every football player has to deal with: black and blue.

Football's a game of hitting. Injuries happen, and the colors black and blue become battle scars of a hard-earned victory. Still, those colors can be dangerous when the brain is involved and can threaten careers.

Pitt defensive end Justin Hargrove overcame those two colors in high school and could be in line for a breakout season at defensive end.

"It's a big, big chance for me," Hargrove said. "I just have to keep working hard, and everyday, go as hard as I can."

Hargrove committed to Pitt on June 27, 2005. During a press conference at the South Hills County Club, he and Baldwin teammate Jason Pinkston gave their verbal pledges to the Panthers. Hargrove was a three-star prospect, ranked No. 25 in Pennsylvania and the No. 29 weakside defensive end in the nation. He chose Pitt over offers from Marshall, Kent State and Akron.

At Baldwin, he played running back, linebacker and safety but projected as a defensive end in college. With his size at the time, 6'4" 245, it was easy to see him adding weight for the defensive line.

He had a slight injury problem prior to this senior season. A high ankle sprain during his junior year kept him out for six games. Still, he returned to end the season with a 106-yard rushing performance against eventual state champions, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic.

His senior year figured to be a coming-out party. Hargrove was primed for a big year in football, but it was cut short by a freak accident.

In the second game of the season against Upper St. Clair, Hargrove took a handoff through the middle of the line. He saw a linebacker and decided to lower his head to run him over. Their helmets smashed where Hargrove's hair meets his forehead in a vicious collision.

The Baldwin senior lost the football, but that wasn't his concern. He knew something was wrong.

"I didn't really black out, but I was laying there for a little bit before I got up and ran to the sideline," he said. "It was like a black screen over my face."

Hargrove was diagnosed with a brain contusion, which he explained is basically a "black and blue mark" on the brain. He had trouble with memory and vision and just couldn't feel normal. If that wasn't bad enough, his football career was in jeopardy.

"It was scary," he said. "I was really scared just to be normal again. Even my memory was bad, but it came back."

It took Hargrove a full year to return to normal. As such, he took a grayshirt, which allowed him to attend school part-time without a scholarship and deferred his enrollment to January of 2007.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2007, Hargrove has played a total of 17 games over the last three seasons. Last year being his best year, he appeared in 10 games making 11 tackles. He also started the BBVA Compass Bowl, recording his first career sack.

Now, after overcoming a severe head injury, Hargrove is pegged as a starter on Pitt's defensive line and looks to have a breakout senior season.

Playing at 270 pounds this season, the redshirt senior from Baldwin hasn't been mentioned much. Even with hype surrounding senior tackles Myles Caragein and Chas Alexcih and the excitement for young players like Aaron Donald and Khaynin Mosely Smith, Hargrove remains as the first-team defensive end. He said he doesn't feel like the forgotten man, but not a lot has been said about him so far.

"I might fly under the radar a little bit," Hargrove said, "but I'm just working as hard as I can every day."

He wants to change that this season. He feels primed for a breakout performance similar to Brandon Lindsey last season. Hargrove should see plenty of one-on-one blocks like Lindsey did last season when Jabaal Sheard lined up on the opposite side as him.

The mild-mannered, soft-spoken Hargrove wouldn't put a number on how many sacks he thinks he can get. Still, he has lofty goals, and with the strength of the defensive line, it's could be within reach.

"My goal is 10-plus," he said.

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