The journey to the National Football League is different for each player. Most can appreciate the sacrifice it takes to have the opportunity to play on Sunday’s. But for retired tackle Anthony Hargrove, his road to then NFL was different than most.
From the beginning Hargrove had an unmerciful life to live through. Pain and heartbreak at such a young tried to dictate the life he had to lead. A brutal begging that may of contributed to his future mistakes. When he was six, the Brooklyn tenement he resided in with his mother and two siblings burned down, leaving them homeless for several years. With rough streets and no opertunitys the family fell on hard times leading to the tragic death of his mother taken away by the AIDS virus when he was nine. Shortly after his mother’s death, Hargrove and his two siblings were adopted by their aunt from Florida. With the change of scenery, Hargrove gained a love for football where he played quarterback and free safety for his high school team in Port Charlotte, Florida.
He played well enough to be offered a scholarship to Georgia Tech, where they moved him to defense full-time. After starting every game at defensive end during an impressive sophomore season, Hargrove was declared academically ineligible for his junior year. He spent his lost season parking airplanes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport and staying in football shape at a local sports performance facility. There, he got the opportunity to perform for multiple NFL scouts and was immediately recognized as one of the most promising defensive players in the draft.
Hargrove was selected by the St. Louis Rams with the 91st overall pick in the 2004 draft, having played only a year-and-a-half of football in college. Early in his third season with the Rams in 2006, Hargrove had an unexplained two-day absence that caused him to be made inactive by the team. The glamorous lifestyle of a professional athlete was starting to takeover his life. “You knew when I was in the building because you could smell me come in,” he said in his book. The Rams traded Hargrove to the Buffalo Bills shortly thereafter, where his off-field problems continued to plague him.
“When you finally leave somewhere you think it’s the people, places, and things,” explained Hargrove. “I was out of St. Louis, you know it was everybody else’s fault, and I wasn’t being honest at that point with myself. When I left for Buffalo, I thought I left that person in St. Louis. But I was wrong because every time I looked in the mirror that person was still there. ”Before the 2007 season began, Hargrove was suspended for the first four games of the regular season for breaking the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Also during training camp, Hargrove was arrested for beating up several cops.
Immediately following his fourth season in the NFL, Hargrove failed another drug test. Due to past violations of the substance abuse policy, Hargrove was suspended for the entire 2008 season. “That was a changing moment in my life, because at first when I was suspended from the NFL I felt that I could do whatever I want – I don’t have to worry about people checking in on me, I don’t have to worry about answering my phone or going to practice, I can now party and I can do the things that I really wanted to do – but those were all lies,” said Hargrove to quote again from his book. Hargrove knew his life was spiraling out of control, so he entered himself into rehab. Hargrove spent 13 months in treatment: three months in a phsychiatric hospital in South Carolina, and ten months in a treatment facility in Miami. It took over a year to rehabiliate him back to health, and on Valentine’s Day 2009, Hargrove was finally reinstated back in the NFL.
A few months later the New Orleans Saints took a chance on Hargrove and signed him to a one-year contract. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams saw Hargrove’s potential at defensive tackle, where he flourished during the 2009 season. The Saints went on to win their first Super Bowl in Miami, the same city where Hargrove rehabilitated himself a year earlier. His New Orleans teammates appreciated his story enough to award him the Ed Block Courage award, given to the player who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, Hargrove finally got his life back in order. It’s a journey no player chooses to take, but it has made Hargrove a better person all around. Hargrove can find solice knowing that his journey to the NFL has made more than just his family proud.