EAST LANSING, MICH. – Dinner was cooling fast. Ra’Shede Hageman waited patiently at the back of the trailer outside of Spartan Stadium while his coach spoke, and as Hageman waited, a cardboard box of fast food sat on the table beside him, like a spinning lure in front of a large shark.
“We only get one of these,” Hageman said. “I may have to sneak back in there and get another.”
The immediate reward for playing in a Big Ten stadium is one unsatisfying container of food-like sustenance. Hageman knows there will be more lavish feasts in the NFL. He also knows his hunger has served him well.
Born in 1990 in Lansing, Mich., Hageman didn’t know his father. His mother placed him in foster care. A dozen homes later, Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle brought him to their house in Minneapolis.
After starring at Washburn High, Hageman signed with the University of Minnesota. Sometimes more participant than achiever, he served an academic suspension, and landed on a police report. Saturday, he finished his Big Ten career, near his birth home, with a couple of scout-pleasing plays in the Gophers’ 14-3 loss to Michigan State.
“I feel like it was about maturity,” he said. “Seeing the ability I had and taking full advantage of it. Three years ago, if you told me I was going to be the top dog on defense, I would have laughed.”
Michigan State forgot, for a moment, where the top dog lines up. Early in the second quarter, the Spartans ran for 2 yards on third-and-3, then lined up quickly to catch the Gophers unprepared on fourth down.
Jeremy Langford took the handoff and ran up the middle. Hageman shrugged off a block, bear-hugged Langford and snatched him off the ground, stopping him for no gain.
“There was a little scuffle before that, we had a few shared words,” Hageman said of a Michigan State player he didn’t identify. “That’s fine. That’s part of the game. I didn’t decide to make a play. It just happened.
“I was fired up. Before that, he was grabbing my facemask and playing after the whistle. I had a couple of words to share. He had a couple of words to share, too. I just had to put my words into my actions and let my play do the talking.”
Hageman hasn’t been an every-down force during his senior season at Minnesota, but he has made big plays. His interception against Northwestern helped change the course of what appeared to be a lost season, another moment in which he translated words into action.
Before beating Northwestern, the Gophers were 0-2 in the Big Ten, having been manhandled by Iowa and outclassed by Michigan.
“It was our bye week, after the Michigan game,” Hageman said. “We shot out a text about having a team meeting, just the players, and we got together and talked and just got things off our chests. We focused on competing more, and having that convert into our games. I felt like that was a leap forward.”
Four victories later, the Gophers have earned a bowl bid. Before he begins thinking about professional football, Hageman wants to enjoy his last sanctioned trip as an amateur. He wants to trade cold turf for warm surf.
“I really want to go to Florida, but I’m not going to be picky,” he said. “I’m down for whatever. I’m ready for another game, to play somebody other than the Big Ten, to shake things up. I feel like that’s really going to be my last game.
“It’s going to be all eyes on the Gophers and we definitely have to come out with a ‘W.’ Beaches, weather, sand, girls, you know. You know.”
Hageman left the Big Ten, left behind East Lansing, with a bear hug and a fast-food carton or two.
“Looking back, I feel like I definitely matured on and off the field,” he said. “I’m excited about where I’m going, and I’m definitely excited about how far I came.”