Thursday, August 23, 2012
Gophers' Hageman not your average human
By Adam Rittenberg
You've probably heard about Ra'Shede Hageman, even if you don't remember him from Minnesota games.
Even those who follow Gophers football from the periphery have heard Hageman's name mentioned in recent years. Former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster raved about him. He's received more ink in the local papers than most Gophers not named MarQueis Gray.
The play of Ra'Shede Hageman has helped Minnesota's undefeated start to the season.
And yet Hageman's career numbers are rather pedestrian: 18 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble, 20 games. He has played three positions for Minnesota -- tight end, defensive end and now defensive tackle -- but hasn't made a major impact at any of them.
So why does he receive so much attention? Well, just look at him.
He's 6-foot-6 and 301 pounds. He's lean, strong and quick. He has a 36-inch vertical leap and was recruited for basketball coming out of Minneapolis' Washburn High School.
Some athletes inspire hyperbole because of what they do between the lines. Hageman simply has to show up.
"I'm not really the normal human being," Hageman told ESPN.com. "I know what God gave me, and I want to use my talents to the best of my ability."
Hageman's challenge this season is maximizing his natural gifts. If successful, he'll give the Gophers' defensive line a much-needed spark. If successful, he'll no longer be a guy who simply looks good in a uniform.
"Talent can only go so far," he said. "At the D-1 level, you have to have technique. Technique goes farther than talent any day, so I'm trying to combine those two and have my own swag, and still use my strength and my ability."
Hageman first realized his potential in high school. No matter the sport, he was the biggest and strongest one out there.
He earned all-state honors as a tight end and recorded a double-double in the state basketball championship, lifting Washburn to a Class 3A title in 2009.
"I stood over everybody, and I was athletic," he recalled. "They told me I'm not a regular human being."
Yet among other abnormal humans on a Big Ten football field, Hageman has been less noticeable to this point. He redshirted the 2009 season and switched from tight end to defensive end. He appeared in eight games as a reserve in 2010, recording five tackles, and followed it up with 13 tackles last fall.
Although Gopher fans are still waiting for Hageman to break out, he raised hope in the 2011 finale against Illinois, recording two sacks and a forced fumble.
"I just got my confidence up, sack after sack," he said. "After the game, I know we had winter workouts, summer workouts, and I was just hungry to get here, where I am right now."
Minnesota hopes Hageman blossoms this fall for a line that has been ineffective for the past three seasons. He has spent much of the offseason working on lowering his pad level, a challenge for a 6-6 defensive tackle. He tends to pop up too soon to find the ball, but understands the need to maintain good leverage and, at times, fill a space so others can make big plays.
While aware of what the outside world expects, Hageman needs no extra motivation.
"There's always pressure, but you have to live with it," he said. "I'm my worst critic. If I feel like I didn’t perform, I get on myself. I’m definitely seeing improvement, and I feed off that."