Javon Hagan: The making of a young leader

 

Ohio redshirt sophomore safety Javon Hagan poses for a portrait at Peden Stadium on August 28, 2017. Hagan played in all of the Bobcat’s 14 games last season, totalling 53 tackles and three interceptions, earning him the MAC Freshman of the Year.

 

Every night before she goes to bed, Anjanette Madison Googles her son.

She reads countless stories about her son, Javon Hagan, because at 20 years old, he has willed himself to success.

He’s done it, even after learning to be patient during his Pop Warner days and even after playing under four- and five-star recruits at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. Hagan has cheered himself on.

Well, because he’s had to.

A team captain for Ohio this season, Hagan is the youngest of the five captains. Despite his youth, he’s earned his current position. Hagan, a safety, was awarded Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year last season.

The accolades Hagan has received are the result of a childhood that required him to be determined and mature. He has his mother to thank for that.

“She just taught me to always carry myself in a very mature manner,” Hagan said. “No one wants a guy that’s always playing around or not serious.”

Madison raised Hagan as a single mother in Jacksonville, with her late mother and sister helping, too. A father nonexistent in Hagan’s life, Madison knew she needed to instill tenacity in her son.

Hagan played Pop Warner football during middle school, later than most kids start. He didn’t receive much playing time and wanted to take a year off from football.

Madison wouldn’t let him.

“I told Javon, ‘Hey, you don’t want to just keep walking away from a team just because you’re not getting that playing time,’” Madison said. “You have to stick in there.”

He did.

From there, Hagan didn’t just continue to play for the team — he was also committed. He went on a no-carb diet to make the weight requirement every Saturday before games. He went to practice every day, and his work ethic earned him the “Mr. Falcon” award, given to one of the leaders on the team.

After playing Pop Warner in middle school, Hagan ran into another obstacle: the competitive nature of elite high school football. Before attending Trinity Christian Academy, Hagan went to Edward White High School, a public school in Jacksonville.

But the headstrong nature he learned from his mom had taken over.

Hagan told his mom that if she wanted him to have a chance at a college scholarship for football, he needed to go to Trinity.

Madison wanted the best for her son, so she said yes. Even though he played under some of the nation’s best college recruits, Hagan put himself in position to succeed.

While at Trinity, Hagan totaled 100 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. His play resulted in Ohio offering him a scholarship in 2014. Even after receiving offers from Ole Miss and Wake Forest, he chose Ohio.

The Bobcats made both Hagan and Madison feel comfortable, even with Athens being more than 600 miles away from Jacksonville.

“I’m comfortable with him being comfortable,” Madison said. “That’s what’s best for me and what’s best for him.”

Hagan’s dedication to anything, whether football or his membership in the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., is no secret. As a mark of his dedication to Omega Psi Phi, also known as “the Ques,” he has the Greek letter Omega branded on both arms. He is also the Ohio University chapter’s keeper of finance.

“If he’s in the Ques, and there’s tasks to be done, Javon’s going to jump in and lead by example,” said Shane Sanderson, Hagan’s old Pop Warner coach.

That dedication has extended to playing for the Bobcats, another endeavor Hagan has taken on with the utmost determination.

He redshirted during his first season with the Bobcats, as he sat out a year to learn and gain experience in practice. But even during that first season, Hagan showed signs of being ready to play, particularly at the halfway point of the season.

“At the time, we looked at him and just said, ‘Hey, just let him keep growing as a leader and as a player,’” said Jimmy Burrow, the Bobcats’ associate head coach and defensive coordinator.

Even after Hagan waited a year to play, he had to wait some more. In his redshirt freshman year, Hagan played in all 14 games, but he started only seven of them.

Since coming to Athens in 2015, Hagan hasn’t ignored the early success he’s had.

“When it comes to college football, not everyone can play college football,” Hagan said. “So you have to be mature enough to notice that.”

When he got on the field, Hagan showed his skills. He was the modern defensive back, able to rock opposing wide receivers and running backs on their heels while also capable of covering different areas on the field.

Hagan’s versatility as a defensive back is his best quality. But that versatility has allowed him to be something else as well: a game-breaker.

The Bobcats were playing Miami on Oct. 1, and, in a game in which both sides struggled to perform at the outset, Hagan performed.

With Ohio up 3-0 in the first quarter, Miami began a drive with 11:45 left in the quarter. It was second-and-15, and the RedHawks were on the Bobcats’ 18-yard line. Billy Bahl, the RedHawks’ quarterback, threw a pass, and Hagan intercepted it, returning the ball for 60 yards.

The interception didn’t lead to a score for the Bobcats, but it did stop the RedHawks from taking a lead in a game that was filled with attrition. The Bobcats won, 17-7.

That play exemplifies the type of player Hagan is. While he’s dabbling in his new leadership responsibilities, it has been his play on the field that has earned him those responsibilities.

“The more confidence he had as a player playing, that created more confidence in his ability to be a leader,” Burrow said.

Hagan is the type of player opposing offenses must plan for. With his ability to tackle as well as cover, he’s not one-dimensional, and teams must be mindful of his presence.

But even as opposing teams noticed him more last year, he took the attention gracefully. And as a team captain now, he carries himself with the same grace.

The same articles that Madison loves to read are ones that Hagan doesn’t want to hear about. He feels he’ll lose focus if his mom tells him what people are saying about him.

It’s what keeps him humble, because, even as a team captain, he is still a redshirt sophomore. He has more work to do.

“Anything he starts, he’s going to finish it,” Madison said. “He’s the type of person like, ‘OK, I gotta do this.’ He wants to show you that ‘I can do it. I can do it.’”

 

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