Ex-Gopher Ra’Shede Hageman expected to be first-round pick
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — A year ago, Ra’Shede Hageman sat and watched the NFL draft knowing he made the right decision to return for his senior year at the University of Minnesota.
“I definitely wanted to graduate, and needed another year under my belt,” he said. “I wanted to get more comfortable.”
Now, with a degree on his wall and 315 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, the defensive tackle believes he’s ready for the NFL. The goal, he said, isn’t just to get selected in the first round on Thursday night, but to become one of the league’s best linemen.
He already is projected to be the first Gophers player taken in the first round since tailback Laurence Maroney was selected 21st overall by the New England Patriots in 2006.
Coincidentally, several NFL mock drafts predict the Patriots will take Hageman 29th overall this year.
“Hageman right now would be a good pick for New England,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He’s the kind of guy, you look at his athletic ability, the way he can bat down passes. He needs a little more stamina and endurance to play four quarters, but I think New England would be that team.”
Kiper thinks defending Super Bowl champion Seattle could take him 32nd to bolster an already strong defense.
Wherever Hageman goes, the Minneapolis Washburn grad finally feels ready to take advantage of the opportunity, something he believes would not have been possible without four years of college, on and off the field.
“I’m just kind of embracing everything,” he said. “Obviously, it’s kind of overwhelming. But it lets me know to keep focusing and to stay hungry. I have a goal at hand, and I plan on reaching that.”
Washburn coach Giovan Jenkins, Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and Hageman’s parents will be with him in the green room at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Thursday night, when the NFL will put the first round on prime-time television.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player as far as I’m concerned,” Jenkins said. “I think sky’s the limit. I think he can be an all-pro. He just has to fine tune his skills and continue to develop.”
Maroney and cornerback Willie Middlebrooks, selected 24th overall by Denver in 2001, are the Gophers’ only first-round picks in the past 24 years. Safety Brock Vereen is one of the top sleepers in the draft and projected to go as early as the third or fourth round.
“It helps us; it helps our program,” Kill said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s the best publicity for the state of Minnesota and our university. I’m very proud of them.”
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
Hageman might not be here were it not for his adoptive parents, Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle, who stabilized a difficult childhood by adopting Ra’Shede and his brother, Xavier, 16 years ago.
Hageman’s biological father died when he was a toddler, and his mother had limited contact with her children because of her drug abuse. By the time he was 7, Ra’Shede had been in 12 foster homes.
“When they adopted me, they put me in sports right away,” Hageman said. “If I wasn’t adopted by them, I don’t know where I would be. I definitely wouldn’t be here. The opportunity to play sports got me to where I am now.”
One of Hageman’s youth coaches at McRae Park in Minneapolis, Kendrick Williams, watched Hageman struggle with his attitude as a teenager. “He got frustrated when things didn’t always go his way,” Williams said. “It was hard for Ra’Shede to handle adversity.”
Hageman, an All-American tight end at Washburn, was the most gifted in-state recruit to pick the Gophers during coach Tim Brewster’s tenure, but it was Kill who pushed him to focus more on school and studying the game.
After Brewster was fired in 2010, Hageman was a long way from reaching his potential on or off the field. He had been suspended for academic reasons and moved to a new position, defensive end.
“I don’t think any other kid would have stuck through at the U,” Williams said.
Hageman graduated in December with a degree in youth studies. He also finished his career as a team captain and All-Big Ten first-team performer after leading the Gophers with 13 tackles for loss among his 38 tackles last season. And he recorded his first career interception in an upset victory at Northwestern and blocked two kicks.
His eight pass breakups ranked him among the top five nationally for a lineman.
“Nothing makes you more proud,” Kill said. “Ra’Shede and I go way back here. To see how that young man is handling himself right now is tremendous.”
Last summer, the backs of McRae Park’s camp T-shirts read, “Never Forget Where You Come From.” Hageman hasn’t. He returned to where it all started to talk to kids about how he changed.
“Once I have some free time, I definitely want to start some camps at McRae, just to inspire the next Ra’Shede Hageman or whoever who can grow up and one day use my story and my camp to be successful,” Hageman said.
In the months leading up to the NFL combine, Hageman worked out in California. The goal was to show scouts just why he’s such an athletic freak, and he didn’t disappoint.
He was one of the top three performers in the bench press with 32 reps at 225 pounds. Hageman also had a 35.5-inch vertical jump, 114-inch broad jump and ran 5.02 seconds in the 40-yard dash — all impressive numbers for a man his size.
“The combine was a lot different,” he said. “You had physicals and MRIs. They wake you up early. It was kind of like them throwing you a fastball. It was obviously something new to me. It was a moment that I’ll take in for the rest of my life. It was a great experience. But it’s just about playing football at the end of the day.”
Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, who won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the best defensive player in college football, is considered the top defensive tackle in this year’s draft and a probable top-10 pick. Hageman is the next interior defensive lineman projected to come off the board, late in the first round.
The evaluation on Hageman is that he could be a star if the right team is committed to developing his talent. He’s bigger, faster and stronger than most players at his position but isn’t nearly as polished.
Gophers coaches had to nag him about lowering his pad level last year.
“A lot of teams have seen that I’ve only been playing (defensive tackle) for three years,” he said. “So I’m still new at the position. They still know I have a lot of potential.”
NFL teams could use him in a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme as either a nose tackle or three-technique defensive lineman who lines up on the outside shoulder of a guard.
Fox college football and NFL Network analyst Charles Davis says he spoke to some NFL coaches who believe Hageman could even play defensive end at times, which he did for the Gophers last season.
Davis would be surprised if Hageman isn’t drafted in the first round.
“We’ve talked about him so much as being a boom-or-bust guy,” Davis said. “You see the talent, but you don’t see it all the time. There are stretches where you’re saying, ‘Is he out there? Where’s No. 99?’ But then you will see plays where you go, ‘Wow! Whoa! Did you just see that?’
“He’s a terrific player. The more tape you watch on him, the more he grows on you.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.