Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Alex Hargrove’s first visit to Salisbury University as a high school senior was relatively normal.
He came to campus as a high school senior on a Saturday in October. He watched the men’s soccer team from the stands and met several players and coaches on the team.
Hargrove said from his first step on campus, he knew there was something special about Salisbury.
“I had visited a number of different schools and from that first visit. [Salisbury] always felt like a place of comfort and support,” Hargrove said. “I knew I could have everything I needed to grow in the ways I wanted to.”
The decision to come to Salisbury worked out well for Hargrove. After four years as a player, he joined the coaching staff as an assistant coach in 2010.
His head coaching career began in 2016 when then-head coach Dr. Gerry DiBartolo stepped down after 37 years in the position.
Hargrove tallied 35 wins at the helm, with 16 coming in Capital Athletic Conference play. In 2018, he led the Sea Gulls to an 11-3-1 record and reached the CAC Semifinals.
After spending 15 years with the SU men’s soccer program, Hargrove will be stepping down effective March 1, 2021.
Hargrove said there were two main factors driving his decision. One was the opportunity to be closer to his family.
Hargrove grew up in Pennsylvania, but his parents met and married in Portland, Oregon. His brother also lives in Portland, and his parents plan to move back in 2021.
While Hargrove has spent much of his life on the East Coast, he said Portland has always been like a second home for the family, and he still visits frequently.
“We’ve gone back out there most summers through my childhood, and I’ve been out there to visit my brother basically every year of my adult life,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove said the family hopes to spend more time together when they rejoin in Portland.
Though the decision was difficult, Hargrove said the chance to reunite the family was critical.
“It’s an opportunity to finish the family where we started it,” Hargrove said. “There’s a lot of value and importance in that for me.”
Finding stable ground
Hargrove has made it a point during his coaching career to emphasize the importance of personal growth to his players.
During Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this fall, Hargrove had a heart-to-heart with the team about his mental health.
“I found myself in a spot about a year ago where I had some unacknowledged and unaddressed mental health issues that I needed to start seeking help on to find some stable ground,” Hargrove said.
Junior forward Cullen Myers said he felt moved by the conversation.
Myers said that moment showed him just how much Hargrove cared for the players off the field.
“He told us that it was okay to show emotion around him and be yourself, I thought that was a really cool thing,” Myers said. “It was clear that he wanted us to become the best version of ourselves … first and foremost, he wanted us to become better people.”
Senior midfielder Beau Johnson said he has had some personal obstacles during his career at SU.
Johnson said Hargrove has helped him significantly off the field in ways that go beyond soccer and that conversation with the team.
“Last year, I was going through some [things] where I definitely needed some off the field help, and it was definitely affecting the way I was playing,” Johnson said. “He was always there for me … off the field, he’s helped me a lot more and it’s been a lot more important.”
After going through a period of looking inward and acknowledging the problems, Hargrove hoped to return to his duties stronger than before.
Instead, he realized it was time to make some significant changes.
“I found in that process, ultimately, that it might be time for a change in location … as well as to take some space to consider a different career path,” Hargrove said.
Despite having a new face at the helm in March, Hargrove said the culture of Salisbury men’s soccer is one that was established before he arrived and will last long after he leaves.
“The culture that I walked into was one of family … one of comfort and support,” Hargrove said.
His first experience with the SU men’s soccer family came in his first preseason as a player for Salisbury. All week, the players on the team had heard about the alumni game.
During the week leading up to the game, Hargrove largely ignored the talk surrounding it.
Hargrove said he was caught off guard by the intensity of the game, but there was something else that surprised him.
“We got our butts kicked that day … there were some good players, former All-Americans,” Hargrove said. “But honestly, the best part of that entire day was the barbecue after."
“To watch the way those guys interacted with each other and the current players, it was very clear there was something different about this program.”
Current players recognize this culture as well.
Johnson said the team felt like family from his first moments as a Sea Gull, in large part because of the messages from Hargrove and the coaching staff.
“I didn’t know anyone coming into Salisbury,” Johnson said. “The fact that [Hargrove] preaches family so much was amazing, because I felt like I had 30 new best friends that I could rely on … most kids don’t get that opportunity.”
Myers mentioned that being a part of the men’s soccer program has connected him to many more people than he expected.
Myers said he attributes much of those feelings of family and connection to Hargrove.
“That’s a bond that ties people together throughout generations,” Myers said. “It’s going to last with me for a while … [Hargrove] always put that in our heads."
“Whatever happens next, the team will always remember [Hargrove] as someone who cared. He cared about SU soccer. He cared about us as humans, and I think that’s something that will carry [on] with everyone.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Sports Information image.