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Top 25 MAC Players of 2018: #13 Javon Hagan, SS, Ohio

The “thief in the night” is about to lead a young Ohio defense on a quest to a MAC title.

Ohio v Toledo Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images

Fresh off of a 9-4 season, a lopsided bowl victory in Nassau, and dozens of returning talent on offense, the Ohio Bobcats appear destined for their first conference title since the first moon landing.

The one glaring issue is the turnover on defense. Ohio’s typically stout unit under Frank Solich is in the midst of a major overhaul, replacing nearly the entire front seven. But one important constant remains in the secondary — redshirt junior strong safety Javon Hagan.

Hagan’s already been a key contributor in two successful Ohio seasons. One included a MAC East title, where the Bobcats were a possession away from knocking off an undefeated Western Michigan team in Detroit. The other involved nine wins and culminated in a 41-6 Bahamas Bowl win over UAB. Thanks to a 9-tackle performance complemented with a forced fumble and two pass deflections, Hagan was named the defensive MVP of the event.

It’s hard to tell that just three years ago, Hagan — a two-time high school state champion in Florida — was classified as a 2-star recruit by 247Sports. With an aggressive linebacker-esque play-style, Hagan’s straight-line speed and tackling ability would now be desired by any team in the country. Although his aggressiveness has sometimes hampered his coverage, it frequently pays off for the Bobcats. In two seasons of suiting up in green and white, Hagan has forced six fumbles and intercepted three passes for 120 yards.

Hagan finished second on Frank Solich’s defense in 2017 with 85 total tackles, only trailing current Miami Dolphins linebacker Quentin Poling.

In all statistical fields excluding tackles, Hagan’s numbers slightly dropped off as a sophomore. Ohio’s defense wasn’t the same spectacular unit from 2016, but the team didn’t suffer because the offense picked up the slack. Now, the safety is using a tool from the Miami Hurricanes to motivate the defense to morph back into an elite unit in 2018.

After the famous “turnover chain” allowed the Hurricanes to escalate to sixth in the country in turnover margin (+14), Hagan proposed the idea of implementing a turnover belt on the Bobcat sidelines, according to The Athens Post. Ohio finished the 2017 year with a suboptimal (-4) turnover differential — a number Hagan is attempting to reverse with the new hardware.

While the Bobcats face high expectations as MAC title favorites, personal standards remain lofty for the 6-foot Jacksonville native headed into the new year. A two-time Second Team All-MAC selection, Hagan was one of 35 defensive backs selected to the Jim Thorpe Award watchlist in late July.

Despite his under-the-radar recruiting status just several years ago, Hagan seems NFL bound, whether it be after the 2018 season or the next. He is proficient in so many areas on the field, and can flourish at both safety positions.

Lastly, Hagan can attack opposing offensive players with his sleight-of-hand. There are at least three viral instances of the safety snatching towels from opposing players — an interesting, ongoing comic routine on the Bobcats defense.

2016 Dollar General Bowl vs. Troy:

2017 vs. Kansas:

2017 vs. Akron:

And bonus points for an attempt at taking the FBS all-time receiving yards leader’s towel:

Opposing teams must learn to always stay alert when Javon Hagan is lurking around, whether he’s invading the backfield for a big hit or snatching a sweaty cloth from an unsuspecting towel bearer.