BOISE, Idaho — Ever since football entered his life, Javon Hagan has had one ultimate goal — to be a professional.
But Hagan, Ohio’s redshirt senior safety, has found his love of the college game grow and swell with each season spent in Athens.
Those two tracks meet, and then diverge, on Friday when the Bobcats (6-6) wrap up the 2019 season in the 23rd annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Nevada (7-5). Kick off from Albertsons Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m. (ET).
“It’s a great feeling to still be a part of the program,” Hagan said last month. “Definitely a blessing to have another opportunity to play with these guys.”
It’ll be game No. 52 of Hagan’s career, and his 48th career start. Few Ohio players have contributed as much, or at a consistently high level as the Jacksonville, Fla. product.
Hagan has 315 career tackles, and his 189 solo stops rank as sixth-most in program history. He ranks eighth in Ohio history in both passes defended (32) and passes broken up (26). Hagan, who plays both close to the line of scrimmage and at other times deep as a free-roving defender, has also collected 9.0 tackles for loss, six interceptions, nine forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
Hagan has been regarded as one of the best defensive players in the Mid-American Conference for four straight years. He was the MAC Freshman of the Year as an impact defender in 2016. He was All-MAC Second Team in both 2016 and ’17. In each of the last two years (2018-19) he earned First Team All-MAC honors.
Hagan became the first defensive back in Ohio history to earn first team all-conference honors in back-to-back seasons.
“Everything that you would want out of him…he’s done,” said Ohio Defensive Coordinator and safeties coach Ron Collins.
Along the way, Hagan became adept at developing traits, habits and a strategy to help him forge a path into the NFL. Early draft projections have Hagan as a potential late-round draft pick or an undrafted free agent signee.
The process for the pros will ramp up once Ohio’s season finishes. But all season long Hagan has meticulously poured over his own game film. Tackling angles, first steps on initial reads, and grading how well, or how early, he diagnosed a play based on a read before the snap, are all things Hagan has detailed as he reviewed his own work.
“Each and every week I try to key on what I’m lacking, or what I’m not as clean or sharp at,” Hagan explained.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming Hagan has been anything less than all in with the Bobcats. Ohio’s season hasn’t gone according to plan, there was no MAC East championship and no shot at the MAC championship. The Bobcats’ defense struggled to find stops at key times, and played behind the turnover-curve all season.
But Collins said it wasn’t due to Hagan shirking any of his responsibilities as the lone senior in the secondary.
“He came to work every day. Takes notes. Asks great questions. Great leader in the room,” Collins said.
“The thing about a guy in Javon’s situation is he just going to go off and do his own deal? That kind of thing, and just worry about himself,” Collins continued. “He didn’t. He’s still buying in. Every time a correction is made, or I ask him to hustle or whatever, it’s ‘Yes sir’ and he does it. That part was awesome.”
Hagan embraced being leader for the defense, and all the scrutiny that comes with that.
“It can be a lot of pressure at times, for sure,” Hagan said. “You have to watch what you’re doing.
“They’re looking to see if you’re coming into the weight room five minutes before, or one minute before. Are you getting extra film in? Are you answering the questions in the film room?” he explained. “It’s the little things like that.”
It’s the attention to all those details, both in his own pursuits and with the Bobcats, that have been colored Hagan’s season. And yes, he desperate wants to reach the NFL.
But he’s grown to appreciate the differences in the college game as well. As the prospect of a pro career draws closer, he’s learned to love being where he’s at even more.
The culture of the college game, the sense of belonging, the feeling of working as a collective toward a bigger goal, are all things that can be harder to capture at the next level. It’s come up in conversations with those in his circle who have made it.
It’s hit home for Hagan as he’s navigated one more season in Athens.
“College football — the culture of it, the passion, the fight songs — man. Just seeing guys do something small like the fight song stuff like that means a lot to me. It’s a culture thing,” Hagan said
“For example, we’re 6-6, we could go into this game not caring,” he added. “But it’s bigger than us. We’re doing it for the program.”
The quest for a pro contract awaits, but first there’s one more game to play. It’s one more chance for Hagan to make every tackle, to perfect every coverage technique, to nail every pursuit angle.
The one thing Hagan is feeling most as his college career ends is appreciative — for the opportunity and the memories made. Those are the details that are already perfect, and don’t need to be obsessively graded to have worth.
“It’s a blessing to be out here,” he said. “Not a lot of guys get this opportunity.”
The Bobcats held a light, morning practice at the Caven-Williams Sports Complex on New Year’s Day. The workout was a ‘No Sweat Thursday’ practice for Ohio and was literally a walk-through.
Lunch and early afternoon meetings followed, then the team traveled to nearby Bogus Basin — a ski resort — for an afternoon of outdoor activities. Like Monday and Tuesday, players were scheduled to have a free evening before bed checks close to midnight.
Ohio will have its final practice of the season on Thursday, a late afternoon session, that will follow the ‘Fast Friday’ model that OU has used all season. It will more intense, by design, than Wednesday’s practice.
Ohio head coach Frank Solich and chosen players will be made available for an afternoon press conference as well. It is scheduled before the afternoon practice, at 5 p.m. (ET).