Javon Hagan jogged off the practice field inside Walter Fieldhouse last week and shed the Adidas receiving gloves he was wearing.
The smell of the gloves could have knocked out a skunk. That’s what sweat does to football equipment. But Hagan doesn’t mind it. He’s used to it, and those gloves have meaning for the senior defensive back.
The Ohio “attack cat” logo can be made out of the gloves if Hagan holds his hands in a certain position, so if he intercepts a ball, he can flash the logo and show off.
The problem is that last year, Hagan had trouble hauling in interceptions. Drops became an issue on the back end for Hagan. Now, he’s working on creating more turnovers, catching the ball and flashing his gloves whenever he can.
“I missed a ton of opportunities where I could have given the offense the ball back,” he said. “I’m working on looking the ball in and feeling confident with my hands.”
After totaling 11 turnovers in his first two years playing, Hagan had trouble turning the ball over last season. In 12 games, he had two interceptions and no forced fumbles. Hagan found himself in position for multiple interceptions and a couple more forced fumbles, but he couldn’t hang on to the ball.
That’s why this spring, he’s working with receivers and other defensive backs to improve his catching ability. He’s doing drills, staying late after practice and finding time to catch the ball.
“After practice, me and the safeties do ball drills,” Hagan said. “My break, coming out of my break, I’ve been on a diet. I’ve lost 10 pounds so far. Basically just feeling more comfortable and being a leader.”
This season will be different for Hagan, the Jacksonville, Florida, kid who came to Ohio with pro aspirations. This season, he’ll have to play in the secondary without his best friend, former Ohio safety Kylan Nelson. Hagan and Nelson weren’t just good teammates with great chemistry. They hung out off the field together, ate together and watched film together.
Nelson is working out with hopes of latching on to an NFL team, but he was in Athens for pro day last week to surprise Hagan, not even letting him know when he was coming. Hagan, meanwhile, is finding new friends to hang out with and new members of the secondary to bond with.
Enter Jarron Hampton.
Hampton, a redshirt junior from Fremont, played in all 13 games last season as a nickel safety for the Bobcats. He played alongside both Hagan and Nelson, sucking in any information he could from the two veterans. He even sat beside Nelson during film sessions last season. Now, he’s become one of the leaders in the secondary with Hagan, who needed a friend when Nelson left campus.
Hampton and Hagan eat together just like Nelson and Hagan did. They hang out outside the football realm. The only difference? Hagan loves playing video games; Hampton doesn’t play. But that’s about it. Otherwise, they’re building chemistry in every facet.
Nelson and Hagan always knew where each other would be on the field. They knew how to have a two-pronged leadership style. Now, Hagan is helping Hampton adapt to leading. Hagan’s a teacher as well as a student now.
“It definitely helps out the communication,” Hampton said. “We’ve been doing things outside of football, hanging out, going out to eat, all that — so it’s definitely better for us in the back end and hopefully is going to help the defense communicate better.”
While teaching, Hagan is trying to iron out some of the problems he had with his play a season ago. He wants to build off his success. He wants to perfect his shortcomings.
Hagan announced publicly that he was returning to school for his senior season instead of going to the NFL. Many didn’t expect him to leave early, but Hagan was confident that if he left, he would have impressed pro scouts. This season, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to impress them for next year’s draft.
But instead of worrying about dropped interceptions this season, Hagan hopes to hold on to the ball and create turnovers.
He just wants to put those Adidas gloves together and flash the logo.