Posted on Tue, Aug. 03, 2004_krdDartInc++;document.write('');
Hargrove is back where he belongs

Rookie defensive end didn't play last season

By Steve Korte

MACOMB - A year ago, Anthony Hargrove was pushing planes away from the terminal at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta.

Now Hargrove is pushing offensive tackle Grant Williams away from the line of scrimmage at the St. Louis Rams' training camp.

"He's got a big wing span, but not as big as a Delta 88 or 757," Hargrove said of the 6-foot-7, 320-pound Williams.

After being declared academically ineligible last year as a junior at Georgia Tech, Hargrove got a job as a ramp agent.

"I'd get into a cart and push the planes out, I was a wing walker where I walked out with the plane making sure the wings didn't hit anything, I loaded and unloaded baggage," Hargrove said.

The 6-foot-3, 269-pound Hargrove felt -- and looked -- out of place.

"My problem was they didn't have a big enough uniform for me," Hargrove said. "I had to walk around in tight pants and a small shirt. The only fashion statement I was making was that I was just going to work every day."

Hargrove, 21, kept himself in shape as he dreamed of playing football again.

"I knew I didn't want to be there, I wanted to be on the field with my cleats and helmet on hitting people," Hargrove said. "I knew this is where I wanted to be, and I had to do whatever it takes to get here."

The Rams, searching for an eventual replacement for right defensive end Grant Wistrom, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks, took a chance on Hargrove by selecting him in the third round of the 2004 NFL draft.

Hargrove said he wasn't surprised to be drafted so high.

"If I would have stayed in college another year, I think I would have had a chance to be a first-rounder," Hargrove said.

Hargrove has been one of the early standouts in training camp. He has that rare combination -- a burst off the ball on the pass rush along with the strength to stuff the run -- that you need to be an every-down player at defensive end. If he can overcome the dreaded Steinke Hoo-Doo Pretty Tony curse, he should be just fine.

"I love his ability," Rams defensive captain Tyoka Jackson said. "He's going to make mental mistakes because rookies do that, but he's working hard to get it down. When I look at Hargrove, I see a bigger Leonard Little, and that sounds pretty good to me."

Little also sees a little of himself in Hargrove.

"He's got all the tools to be a great player, and you know (defensive line coach Bill) Kollar is going to work with him until he becomes that player," Little said. "In time, he will become the player that everyone expects him to be."

Rams coach Mike Martz was much more reserved in his praise for the rookie.

"We have a long time before we start going through evaluations on any rookies," Martz said. "I have to check myself because we all want to evaluate after every practice. Coaches are notorious for that."

Last week at the start of the Rams' first full-pad practice of training camp, Martz called out Hargrove and third-year offensive lineman Andy King to go one-on-one.

"I actually expect to be the first guy called out for everything now," Hargrove said. "Last year when I was out here running, my weight lifting coach told me that I was kind of the trend-setter out here. Being called out was no surprise. I wish I would have done better, but I was happy (Martz) gave me the opportunity to set the tone before practice."

Hargrove admitted being caught a little off guard in his first two days of full contact after being out of football for a year.

"The first time I came out here and got hit, I was a little shell-shocked," Hargrove said. "I was like, 'Oh, man.' But, that was all right. I had to get reacclimated to the contact."

Hargrove is among four players vying for Wistrom's starting spot. The others are Bryce Fisher, Sean Moran and Erik Flowers. Jackson and Little are both working at left defensive end.

"There's six guys on the left and right side that you'd be happy with lining up and playing, I can safely say that," Martz said. "At right end, I'm sure whoever that is will play very well."

Hargrove hopes he's that guy.

"I couldn't ask for anything better," Hargrove said. "It's a free battle on the right side and we've got a lot of guys competing, and I'm right in the mix. I want to be the starter, that's my goal. If I don't achieve it, I wouldn't mind being No. 2 and coming in to relieve Bryce or somebody else."