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Continued: Feeling at home, Hageman becomes face of Gophers football

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

He is expected to be one of the Big Ten’s leaders this year. The early honors have poured in. Hageman has been named first-team preseason all-Big Ten and picked for several awards’ watch lists, including the Rotary Lombardi Award.

“I think he’s in as good of shape and as focused as he’s been since I’ve been here,” Kill said.

As his success has blossomed, he’s become a figure in his community, speaking at elementary schools and football camps about his experiences and what it’s like to play football at this level.

With a 2-year-old son of his own — Zion — Hageman is also charged with helping to provide the early parental presence he never had.

• • •

Hageman doesn’t remember how old he was when Michigan child services took him away from Mae Knox, his biological mother who had struggled with debilitating cocaine and alcohol addictions since before Hageman and his younger half-brother, Xavier, were born.

Those early crises and the 12 subsequent foster homes, however, formed a lasting base of anger and distrust of just about everyone, he said. With Eric and Jill, a pair of Minneapolis lawyers, he and Xavier found a “warm welcome,” Hageman said. (Ra’Shede and Xavier also have an older half-brother, Lazal Thompson, who was not part of the adoption.)

“I think we were kind of naive going into it,” Coyle said. “We were in our mid-20s at the time, full of save-the-world kind of spirit.”

Hageman was confused initially. When a kid at his elementary school asked Hageman’s mother why she was white if her child was black, Coyle explained that Ra’Shede was adopted. Ra’Shede was upset, unable to understand why his mother had to tell the child he wasn’t born to her.

A private middle school attended largely by white students left him feeling as if no one understood him. At Washburn, Hageman found a crowd that seemed to fit. But when his parents would show up for school functions, the attitude with his peers, eager to ridicule something that was different, changed.

Hageman got in fights he didn’t quite understand, and then would sleep over at friends’ houses, go grocery shopping with their mothers, imagining what it would be like to have a “normal” family.

“He was always different,” Washburn football coach Giovan Jenkins said. “Most of the kids that were at our school at that time, they didn’t have $5 or $10 in their pocket for anything, and he was a young man that always had more than $20.”

It wasn’t until late in high school that Hageman started to understand how much being different helped him. His strength and natural athletic ability gave him something to focus on, while his size caused coaches to warn him to stay out of any tussles, lest he be the first recognized each time. His family supported all of his football needs, while giving him a stable impetus to keep up his schoolwork, which he admitted was “definitely not cool” in his circle.

Hageman was offered scholarships by 12 schools, including Ohio State and Florida. But growing to appreciate the support system that had steadily gathered around him despite his struggles, he chose Minnesota.

“If I put on a jersey,” Hageman said, “I want to represent where I’m from.”

• • •

His hands formed into fists, his head engulfed in his helmet, thrown back in celebration, Ra’Shede Hageman is quite literally the face of Gophers football on this year’s media guide cover. Surrounded by four teammates, Hageman stands in the forefront — clearly the image of a leader.

But college, too, has included rough patches. By the start of Hageman’s redshirt freshman season, the defensive linemen had moved into a house together — where things quickly spiraled out of control.

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  • 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!”

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