Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell, not well known for throwing out compliments, had a lot to say about the team’s third-round selection in defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
“Every week that I watched him on tape, he didn’t play down to the talent he played against,” said Mitchell immediately following the Steelers selection of Hargrave. “He played up to his ability. This kid got better, better, better every week.”
And with the pick came those questions about the level of talent Hargrave played against, being in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. But Mitchell wasn’t fazed by that at all.
“They (SCST) feel like his is one of the best football players to go there,” said Mitchell. “If you go back, there have been some great football players that came out of South Carolina State. Three of them are National Hall of Fame and we have one here with the Steelers, Donnie Shell. I’m not afraid of the competition he played at. I think this guy is going to help us, give us added dimensions when we go to our Nickel package. I like him and I’m eager to work with him. I’m extremely happy that we have him.”
So let’s take a look at some of those standouts starting with none other than defensive back Donnie Shell. Shell joined the Steelers in 1974 as an undrafted free agent on his way to a 14-year career. He contributed on a limited basis for his first few seasons, but once he cracked the starting lineup, Shell made an immediate impact. He was a fearless player, often giving up his body to make the hit. This fittingly earned him the nickname, “Torpedo.” Shell was a large part of the Steel Curtain, helping Pittsburgh secure 4 Super Bowl victories during his tenure, and played in over 200 games for the black and gold. Though he hasn’t yet made it to the Hall of Fame, Shell certainly has a case for entering Canton, and he’s garnered support throughout the league.
Next up, Deacon Jones. Though I could end it there, I’ll provide a brief look into his Hall of Fame career. Jones, who played one year at South Carolina State before having his scholarship revoked after the school learned that he was a part of a civil rights protest, was taken 186th overall by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1961 NFL Draft after ending his college career at Mississippi Valley State. The inventor of the head slap continues to be revered as one of the best defensive ends in NFL history, and for good reason. Jones was nearly unblockable, and given his tenacity, you could find him in the backfield more often than not. Jones played in 191 games through 14 years in the NFL and secured himself a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1980.
Lastly we’ll look to linebacker Harry Carson. Carson was selected by the Giants in the 4th round of the 1976 draft. He came into the NFL as being the first player in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference history to win back to back defensive player of the year awards. Carson joined a dynamic linebacking corps including Lawrence Taylor, Brian Kelley and Brad Van Pelt. And still, Carson led the team in tackles for nearly half of his career. In addition, he established himself as a captain for a decade. He left the league in 1988 after a 13-year career and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
While Shell, Jones and Carson are the three most notable players who have ties to South Carolina State, a few less notable ones who also had success in the NFL that hail from that school include John Gilliam, Barney Chavous, Robert Porcher, Edwin Bailey, Dwayne Harper and Orlando Brown. Additionally, Hargrave is the fist player drafted by the Steelers out of South Carolina State since 1983 when running back Henry Odom was taken in the eighth-round.
That’s certainly some good company from a small school. So can Hargrave be the next successful product to come out of South Carolina State? Only time will tell, but he’ll have the opportunity to make an impact for the Steelers right away in 2016.