Two former Gophers stars helping Falcons' underrated defense
HOUSTON -- When the Atlanta Falcons' charter flight touched down in Houston on Sunday for Super Bowl 51, Ra'Shede Hageman and De'Vondre Campbell didn't need words to let each other know how they were feeling.
HOUSTON - When the Atlanta Falcons' charter flight touched down in Houston on Sunday for Super Bowl 51, Ra'Shede Hageman and De'Vondre Campbell didn't need words to let each other know how they were feeling.
Hageman, a defensive tackle, and Campbell, a linebacker, were teammates at the University of Minnesota in 2013. Hageman was drafted by the Falcons in 2014, and Campbell joined him on the team two years later.
Now, they're getting ready to face New England in Sunday's big game at NRG Stadium.
"It's crazy,'' Hageman said Monday night at Super Bowl Opening Night at Minute Maid Stadium. "We both got drafted by the same team, and it's a blessing that we're both here. It's just cool. He's one of my home boys. For us to be here both is wonderful.
"(When the Falcons arrived Sunday), we just looked at each other. ... It was like we had ESP and we could read each other's minds.''
Eventually, the two did talk after they arrived in Houston. Campbell said they recalled a conversation from early in the season about wanting to get to the Super Bowl.
"It was just wild, man, because we remembered how we used to talk about how we wanted to be in this situation,'' Campbell said. "This is such a rare opportunity or us to be here, and to be able to experience it with one another is just a blessing.''
Hageman and Campbell have become key components of an underrated Atlanta defense. Hageman, taken in the second round in 2014, doesn't start, but he came off the bench in the 44-21 win over Green Bay in the NFC championship game to have three tackles for loss, including a sack of Aaron Rodgers.
Campbell, selected in the fourth round last year, is one of four rookies starting on Atlanta's defense. He missed four early games because of injuries but ended up starting in 10 of the 11 regular-season games he played.
The two aren't the only players with Twin Cities ties who will take the field Sunday. New England wide receiver Michael Floyd played at Cretin-Derham Hall High School, and Atlanta offensive lineman Tom Compton attended Rosemount High School.
Floyd has had a limited role since being picked up on waivers by the Patriots on Dec. 15 after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and let go by Arizona. Compton is expected to play only on special teams.
Hageman and Campbell, though, both could make a big impact. They will try to contain a high-powered Patriots offense led by quarterback Tom Brady.
The Falcons were able to slow down Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the NFC championship game. One key play came when Hageman sacked Rodgers late in the first half by grabbing him on the ankle with one hand while the Packers driving and trying to cut into a 17-0 deficit.
"I bull rushed the center and he pulled me down and I saw I could take a swing and I got him on his shoes,'' Hageman said. "I just had to create something, and I was able to get a heel click. After I saw it, it was a pretty nice play. It's kind of hard to take somebody down by one hand.''
Now, Hageman is preparing to face Brady in the Super Bowl. He's just coming to realize how far the Falcons have come.
"It hadn't hit me until I saw all of you,'' Hageman said of the media at Super Bowl Opening Night. "Before that, I was in my zone. It was just a regular practice week, but seeing all these media and all that, it's starting to hit me a little bit.''
It's also starting to sink in for Campbell that he will be playing in the Super Bowl as a rookie.
"It's a blessing,'' Campbell said. "It's an experience that I'll definitely remember the rest of my life. ... I just want to make the most of it and not leave anything out there.''
Adding to the Super Bowl experience, Campbell will be able to share it with a former Gophers teammate.
"It's amazing man,'' Campbell said. "I played with Ra'Shede in college for a year and to be able to come (to Atlanta) and meet up with him again, it kind of made me a little bit more comfortable when I first got here, knowing somebody that I've known previously.''