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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

“We called it the ‘Zoo,’ ” Hageman said. “It was the house to party. Every weekend, something would happen, you understand? It would get so packed that the cops would come.”

One night when the police came to issue a complaint, everyone ran except Hageman. The complaint ended up with his name on it, an incident that was reported at the time. Hageman’s grades started to slip — so much so that he sat out three games that year (originally it was reported that he was suspended; Hageman insists it was a strong suggestion from Jeff Horton, the interim coach after Brewster was fired).

By the time Kill showed up, Hageman was getting a reputation. Kill, however, saw something in Hageman that made him want to give Hageman a second chance — a decision that has been vindicated.

“When I took the job here, it was questionable whether he was going to be in school and how it was all going to work,” Kill said. “What he’s done from when I was fortunate enough to get to know him to where he is now is just a tremendous story.”

Still, in 2012 Hageman was arrested at Sally’s Saloon for mouthing off to police officers after he had helped to break up a fight among different groups he knew. The charges were dropped, but the jail photo that comes up through a quick Google search haunted him.

“I’m in jail, I’m kind of going through an experience because this is what a lot of my homeboys have been through,” Hageman said. “I was like, ‘This is not what I want to do with my life. I’m messing up.’ ”

Sometimes those moments can shed as much light on a person as anything. Said Gophers defensive line coach Jeff Phelps: “Even when he had hiccups along the way — because everybody does — you could tell that it affected him. He wanted to do well … and you could tell it affected him quite a bit.”

• • •

Relaxed and vulnerable, Hageman is unprepared for the attack. Three pairs of tiny hands fly at him, swatting at his face, climbing up his shoulders. Hageman calmly fields the blitz, squinting as he reaches for another slice of pizza, folding it in half before he leans his head over the box to take a bite.

“Yeah, this rarely happens,” the jungle gym says.

Stretched out on the deck of his family’s ample Minneapolis home, Hageman is comfortable, surrounded by three tiny blond siblings who couldn’t look more different from him. He, Jill and Eric — whom he now calls “probably the coolest people I have ever known” — along with Joe, 11, Lizzie, 7, and Hank, 5 (Xavier now lives in New York) eat together on pizza-shaped plates Jill keeps just for these situations, a fact everyone else teases her about.

It’s Ra’Shede’s 23rd birthday celebration, and the toned-down gala features one present — wireless Beats By Dre headphones — along with no shortage of jokes and occasional eye rolls. Conversation touches on the football schedule and the TV show “Breaking Bad,” while Eric and Jill try to pry girlfriend information from their son. When it’s time for dessert, no one can remember who likes vanilla cake and who likes chocolate.

In short, they are a normal family.

Hageman still gets attention, and lots of it — but now he embraces it. While not yet completely comfortable with the barrage of media, he took an interviewing course in preparation for this year’s Big Ten media day in Chicago.

On the field, he represents a bull’s-eye for other teams and should get double-teamed even more this season, with the loss of fellow lineman D.L. Wilhite — a challenge he almost likes. Driving through campus, he feasts on the stares, turning up the volume in his black Jeep Grand Cherokee to make himself stand out even more.

“I’m a big black man with tattoos,” he said. “And I embrace that. … I think being different kind of helped me identify myself.”

At some point, Hageman’s desperate inner plea to assimilate changed course and he became aligned with Kill’s constant petition for his players to “be uncommon.”

Continuing to move forward is a work in progress. Hageman still holds onto threads of his past resentments. His biological mother, now in his life, brings both a sense of origin and a painful reminder. At times, he only wants to hear her voice; other times he gets so angry he can’t bear to pick up her calls.

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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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