Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman has all the tools to become a high-round NFL draft pick in 2014. Now, he’s applying the requisite focus.
It’s been evident to teammates in the weight room, where Hageman recently bench-pressed 465 pounds. And it’s been evident to coach Jerry Kill through two spring practices.
“Ra’Shede is locked in right now,” Kill said Thursday. “This is the most focused I’ve seen Ra’Shede since I’ve been here.”
Hageman, 22, has grown up a lot since Tim Brewster recruited him to campus out of Minneapolis Washburn in 2009. Back then, Hageman was a 6-6, 260-pound tight end. Now he’s a 313-pound force on the defensive line.
Last season, his first as a college starter, Hageman racked up six sacks. He gave some consideration to entering the NFL draft but thought better of it, knowing he still had plenty of room to improve as a senior.
“The future’s going to take care of itself,” Hageman said. “I just have to take things one day at a time, and the only thing I can worry about is how I play.”
Hageman squandered opportunities earlier in his career. In 2010, then-interim coach Jeff Horton suspended him for three games for a lack of academic focus.
Now, time suddenly seems precious. Even with 13 spring practices still to go, Hageman sounded nostalgic as he walked off the field Thursday.
“It’s going fast,” he said. “... When I was a freshman, I didn’t really think about that. But now that I’m a senior, I’m starting to think a little bit about my future and just trying to take advantage of every day to get better.”
The first two practices tested the patience of a defense that won’t get to hit until the pads come out Saturday. With no pads, Gophers linemen are instructed to limit their contact and release their blocks after three steps.
“You and I can definitely tell that the o-line is taking more than that,” Hageman said. “So we kind of get angry, but coaches tell us to keep our composure and wait until the pads come on.
“I just let my pads do the talking.”
He’s learning to channel his frustration. Last year, it took him a while to adjust to being constantly double-teamed, but he eventually saw the benefits for the defense.
“Getting double-teamed means our linebackers are free to make plays,” Hageman said. “I’m definitely a team player, so if I’ve got to hold two o-linemen for my linebackers to make a play, then it’s football — I’ll take that chance.”
Hageman’s NFL future seems certain, simply based on the measurables. Besides his imposing build, he recently squatted more than 500 pounds and posted a 37-inch vertical jump.
And he’s beloved by teammates, no matter how intense he looks behind that Justin Tuck-facemask.
“Off the field, he’s a brother to everybody,” Gophers safety Brock Vereen said. “He’s one of the truly, most genuine people you’ve ever met.
“The second he puts on the helmet, he turns into a monster. He plays so angry but still controls it and that level of intensity — it just resonates with the whole defense.”
The Gophers are counting on Hageman to help lead a defense that took a big step forward last fall, keying the team’s improvement to 6-7. Defensive end D.L. Wilhite graduated after leading the team with 8 ½ sacks, but the rest of the line returns, including Cameron Botticelli and Michael Amaefula.
Hageman will continue honing his technique and concentrate on making every play count.
“As we get older, we mature,” Kill said, “And I think he knows what’s in front of him, if he does what he needs to do.”