Feeling at home, Hageman becomes face of Gophers football

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 26, 2013 - 12:30 PM

It took a lot of trial and error for the U football team’s most imposing player, Ra’Shede Hageman of Minneapolis, to feel comfortable in his own skin.

Stretched underneath a black cutoff tank top, across Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman’s hulking chest, are four words that act like an anthem: “Only the strong survive.” The ink is part of a patchwork of tattoos and tells a complicated story, one he’s assessed over and over in his mind. 

Sticking out as starkly as he always has, Hageman strides through the gated fence to Washburn High School’s brightly turfed football field. “Welcome to my ’hood,” he says, raising his arms at his sides, claiming his kingdom.

That domain now stretches to just about everything Hageman touches. Heading into his fifth year with the Gophers, Hageman, 23, has become a respected team leader, a role model to schoolchildren in his community and the unlikely face of Gophers football. The hope is that he’ll reach new heights in 2013, carrying his team to a breakout year in coach Jerry Kill’s third season and launching himself forward as a high-round pick in the NFL draft.

But for years, Hageman wanted to fit in seamlessly with a crowd. He was self-conscious about his size and about the skin color of his adoptive family. He harbored anger over the traumatic years in the past. At a young age, he concocted lies when strangers were faced with the truth.

Remembering, Hageman throws back his head and sighs. “I was kind of blind,” he says.

When he began to see what was there all along, it felt like redemption: Standing out is exactly what’s gotten him here.

• • •

When the 6-6, 311-pound Hageman crouches down on the defensive line, staring into the eyes of an opponent, he knows it’s his cue to release. The things that weigh him down — that have always weighed him down — come rushing like a flood through a narrow channel.

What hover between that moment and a sack or a tackle for loss are the things that make him different.

Presence. Power. Intensity. Motivation. He’s No. 99 — the biggest number on the field.

The snap sets the moments he lives for in motion.

“It’s just like an ultimate high,” he said. “Your adrenaline is running — it’s so hard to explain — when you’re on the field and you’re ready to just smash people’s heads.

“… You run full speed and you hear that cracking sound. It’s like, as soon as you hit them, you wait to hear the impact of the ground. So you hit them, and it’s usually like a two-second pause while they’re falling to the ground.

“I usually close my eyes.”

• • •

In 1997, the first time Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle saw their oldest son, they were immediately struck. Ra’Shede Knox was a head taller than the other kids at a Hennepin County Christmas party for “older” foster children, and athletically, far more advanced. The 7-year-old could launch a ball high into the air; could run with impressive speed; could execute back flips.

The strapping frame — one that can now bench 465 pounds and leap 36 inches into the air — didn’t come without competitive desire. Hageman and Coyle watched a video of Ra’Shede being interviewed about what he wanted in an adoptive family. One of his answers: “I want a family that will let me play football.”

It was the beginning of a long journey. After converting from tight end in high school to defensive end under former coach Tim Brewster to defensive tackle with Kill, Hageman has become a tenacious pass-rusher, racking up six sacks and 35 tackles last season as the Gophers doubled their win total and qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2009.

  • related content

  • Photo gallery: Ra’Shede Hageman: The face of Gophers football

    Saturday August 24, 2013

    The Gophers’ most imposing player, Ra’Shede Hageman of Minneapolis, finally feels confident in his own skin after a lot...

  • Gophers expect to use defensive depth in opener vs. UNLV

    Sunday August 25, 2013

    With the forecast calling for temperatures near 90 degrees for Thursday night’s season opener against UNLV, and with the Rebels expected to use a hurry-up offense, the Gophers know their...

  • Chart: Tracking Ra'Shede Hageman's career

    Saturday August 24, 2013

    THE NEED FOR ’SHEDEHere is a look at the career and potential future for Ra’Shede Hageman, a 6-6, 311-pound senior...

  • Chart: 2013 Gophers football at a glance

    Saturday August 24, 2013

    Gophers at a glanceThe Gophers open their season Thursday against UNLV at TCF Bank Stadium. Here is a quick primer...

  • 2013 Gophers football schedule

    Thursday October 31, 2013

    Gophers football scheduleAug. 29: vs. UNLV, 6 p.m.Sept 7: at New Mexico State, 7 p.m.Sept. 14: vs. Western Illinois, 11...

  • Ra’Shede Hageman enters his final year of college football after a breakout junior season. The Hageman family had dinner together and celebrated Ra’Shede’s birthday on the deck of their Minneapolis home. Younger siblings, Lizzy, 7, and Hank, 5, showed him some love. At right is another brother, Joe, 11.

  • Ra’Shede Hageman celebrated his 23rd birthday last month with his family, including his father, Eric Hageman, and 5-year-old brother, Hank. Eric and his wife, Jill Coyle, were immediately drawn to Ra’Shede when they spotted him as a 7-year-old at a Hennepin County Christmas party for foster children.

  • Hageman during a Gophers scrimmage.

  • Ra’Shede Hageman, active in the Minneapolis community, visited his old high school, Washburn, this summer. His shirt says, “Miller boys for life!”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets 3 FINAL
St. Louis 2
Pittsburgh 4 FINAL
Atlanta 2
Miami 7 FINAL
Washington 11
Detroit 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 4
Minnesota 6 FINAL
Baltimore 5
NY Yankees 7 FINAL
Houston 0
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Boston 3
Baltimore 4 FINAL
Toronto 2
Cincinnati 8 FINAL
LA Angels 6
Chicago Cubs 7 FINAL
Kansas City 0
Los Angeles 9 FINAL
San Francisco 11
Chicago WSox 4 FINAL
Cleveland 1
Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Oakland 7
Seattle 5 FINAL
San Diego 8
Texas 5 FINAL
Los Angeles 10
Colorado 11 FINAL
Arizona 10
Arizona 1 FINAL
Colorado 2
Houston 99 FINAL
Washington 91
LA Lakers 99 FINAL
Brooklyn 107
Minnesota 88 FINAL
New Orleans 110
Philadelphia 86 FINAL
Cleveland 87
Detroit 102 FINAL
Miami 109
LA Clippers 119 FINAL
Boston 106
Dallas 99 FINAL
Indiana 104
Memphis 89 FINAL
San Antonio 103
Oklahoma City 109 FINAL
Phoenix 97
Washington 5 FINAL
NY Rangers 2
Calgary 5 FINAL
Nashville 2
Boston 2 FINAL(OT)
Carolina 1
Detroit 4 FINAL
NY Islanders 5
Florida 4 FINAL
Ottawa 2
Anaheim 2 FINAL
New Jersey 1
Chicago 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 3
San Jose 2 FINAL(SO)
Pittsburgh 3
Michigan State 76 FINAL
Louisville 70
Gonzaga 52 FINAL
Duke 66
Philadelphia 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Toronto FC 1 FINAL
Real Salt Lake 2
(7) Florida State 74 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 80
Villanova 70 FINAL
West Virginia 75
Michigan 69 FINAL
Southern Miss 60
Temple 69 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 57
Siena 50 FINAL
Louisiana 52
St Marys-CA 66 FINAL
UCLA 82
(5) Baylor 68 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 77
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite team in the NCAA men's hockey tournament?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close