Hageman suits up for 2014 NFL Draft

Ra’Shede Hageman is projected as a late first-round pick Thursday night.

Minnesota defensive lineman RaShede Hageman sacks Western Illinois quarterback Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium.

Image by Daily File Photo, Amanda Snyder

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman sacks Western Illinois’ quarterback Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium.

by Jack Satzinger

Giovan Jenkins still remembers the first time he laid his eyes on Ra’Shede Hageman.

Hageman towered over other kids as an eighth-grader, and his athletic potential was evident, whether he was dunking a ball on the basketball court or catching a pass on the football field.

“He was definitely bigger than everybody else,” said Jenkins, head football coach at Washburn High School. “He even stood out among our … 10th graders at that point.”

Hageman, who could do a backflip as a 7-year-old, has been lauded for his profound quickness in spite of his gigantic frame for much of his amateur athletic career — a career that will likely turn professional Thursday night.

As one of 30 prospects invited to attend the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the former defensive lineman with the Gophers intends to be the program’s first first-round pick since 2006.

Hageman said while he waits in the green room for his name to be called Thursday, he’ll don a suit similar to his style of play — eye-popping, to say the least.

“It’s going to be an old-school vintage suit,” Hageman said. “You’re obviously going to have your eyes glued on the TV when my name gets called.”

That attention will quickly shift from his flashy suit to the jersey he’ll be holding next to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“I’m anxious and a little excited, but I’m still just kind of seeing the bigger goal at the end,” Hageman said. “That’s to be ready for the whole NFL.”

Representing Minnesota

Hageman was born in Lansing, Mich., but he reps the North Star State like it’s always been home.

Hageman was found at age 4 in the closet of a crack house. He bounced around a dozen foster homes before he and his younger brother, Xavier, were adopted by Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle in 1998.

Hageman’s parents, his three youngest siblings, Jenkins and Jenkins’ fiancé are expected to be in New York for the 2014 NFL Draft. Xavier, who’s currently working on a cruise ship, won’t be at the draft, but Gophers head coach Jerry Kill is expected to be in attendance.

“I’m tremendously excited for him,” Kill said.

Hageman starred as a tight end for Washburn High School and had offers to play football at Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio State and other top college programs. In the end, he opted to play for his hometown team.

Hageman switched from tight end to defensive lineman early in his college career and took the Big Ten by storm last season.

His play on the gridiron has many excited about the potential of a Minnesota kid being taken in the first round of the draft.

“He’s let all the local talent know that it can be done if you stay home,” Jenkins said.

Eric Hageman said he’s excited for the draft but can’t wait for the uncertainty to be put to rest.

“It will just be a relief that the whole draft process is over with,” he said, “and he can begin the next chapter in his life.”

‘The draft process’

A few days after the Gophers’ 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl, Hageman’s focus turned toward the NFL.

Hageman said he’s tried to “keep a low profile” throughout the draft process.

He’s spent ample time in Orange County, Calif., with agent Brian Murphy of Athletes First. Murphy has connected Hageman with personal trainers, position coaches and nutritionists.

“We try and give athletes every possible advantage that we can find to give them all the resources they need,” Murphy said.

While Hageman has been busy conditioning, Murphy has been busy working the phones. He said he’s spoken to all 32 NFL teams about Hageman.

“He’s gotten to know them very well over the past three months,” Murphy said. “And every team that’s met with him has been really impressed.”

Hageman had a chance to make an impression on every NFL team at February’s NFL Draft Combine. He threw up 32 bench press reps, tying for third among defensive linemen.

A few weeks later, scouts from 19 NFL teams saw him go through position drills at Minnesota’s Pro Day.

Hageman’s performance in drills is especially important to scouts because the tight-end-turned-defensive-lineman has only a few years of defensive experience. While nobody questions his athleticism, he’s still a raw talent.

“He’s got freakish athletic ability,” NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock said during a February conference call.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. agreed, but he said Hageman needs to build more endurance to make an impact on a consistent basis.

Hageman has recently spent time in Milwaukee working with former Wisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Watt was the NFL’s Defensive Player of The Year in 2012.

“I obviously know the flaws to my game, and right now, that’s what I’m working on,” Hageman said.

Hageman to the Patriots?

Though the path leading up to the draft is filled with uncertainty, most analysts agree that the New England Patriots could be a landing spot for Hageman on Thursday night.

“New England would be the team I’d look at in the late first round,” Kiper said during an April conference call.

Hageman is projected as a late first-round pick in many mock drafts, and New England has the No. 29 selection of the first round. The Patriots run an unorthodox, reactionary defense that requires adaptable and athletic players up front.

“If he’s still on the board, because he’s an explosive kid, he could play a couple different slots, and Coach [Bill] Belichick likes those versatile guys,” Mayock said.

Murphy called Hageman a “great fit” for New England. He already has several clients playing in Boston, including running back Shane Vereen — older brother of former Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen.

Murphy, who also represents Brock Vereen, said the Patriots do a good job of keeping their draft intentions secret, but he likes the prospect of both Hageman and Vereen teaming up in New England.

“It’s hard to guess, but I’d love to see it happen,” he said. “That would be a lot of fun.”

Hageman’s name will definitely be called in New York at some point over the weekend, but whether it’s in the first round Thursday night remains to be seen. He said he’ll be more than ready regardless of where he’s drafted.

“I know once draft day is over,” Hageman said, “that’s when the real life starts.”