MINNEAPOLIS — Ra’Shede Hageman has the size to play in the NFL. That won’t change for the 6-foot-6, 301-pound Gophers defensive lineman.
But Hageman still lacks several things that will prevent him from leaving the University of Minnesota a year early to pursue his dreams of playing in the NFL. For starters, he needs to improve against the run. He also has to get better at playing with a lower pad level — no small task for a lineman of his stature.
Perhaps what Hageman lacks that he covets most, however, is a college degree. Hageman is a youth studies major and wants to leave campus with a diploma in hand.
For all of those reasons, Hageman has decided that he’ll return to the Gophers next year for his redshirt senior season. The NFL can wait.
“I feel like I need to get one more year under my belt,” Hageman said. “Just for myself, I did OK from my opinion, but I definitely have a lot of things to improve on. Just to get another year under my belt means I have spring ball to work out and get a little bit stronger so I can be a dominant player in the Big Ten.”
Hageman started getting some recognition in the conference this season as he was named All-Big Ten honorable mention. He finished the regular season with five sacks, tied for seventh-most in the Big Ten. He also had 29 tackles and 6.5 tackles-for-loss.
But ever his toughest critic, Hageman believes he can do better. He likened the Big Ten honorable mention award to a handshake or a high five. Next season, he has his sights set on making first or second team All-Big Ten.
“He’s critical of himself,” said Gophers head coach Jerry Kill. “He’s a smart kid. He watches film. He knows he’s still got work to do. He’s pretty grounded, he really is, much more than people would understand.”
This season marked Hageman’s first time really seeing regular action on the defensive line. He appeared in all 12 of Minnesota’s games as a sophomore last year but had just 13 tackles and two sacks. As a high school standout at Minneapolis Washburn, Hageman was a highly recruited tight end, ranked among the best tight ends in the nation by several scouting websites.
During his redshirt season in 2009, though, Hageman made the transition to defensive end. Three years later, he’s become a fixture on the Gophers’ defensive line — one that registered 25 sacks in 12 games this year.
“He started off at tight end. He’s been moving around,” Kill said. “This is his first year truly playing. Coming back, would it be good for him and us? You bet.”
Many players will wait until after their team’s bowl game to announce whether they’ll leave early or return for another year. Hageman’s decision was made up several weeks before the Gophers’ matchup with Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas on Dec. 28 in Houston. With his mind made up, Hageman can now focus on the bowl game and slowing down a prolific Red Raiders passing attack.
The decision wasn’t one that Kill influenced, Hageman said. It was a discussion he had with his parents, Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle. When it came down to it, Hageman said the choice to return was not a tough one.
“The fact that most kids come out early without a degree and just the fact that I still have one more free year, I might as well take advantage of that,” he said. “Graduating is definitely something that’s never happened in my family, so just me doing that kind of shows that I could take care of that and take care of spring ball and one more year of playing with the Gophers. That was definitely a big importance to making my decision.”
When Hageman graduates next year, there’s a good chance his NFL stock will be higher than it is now. He has work to do between now and then, sure, but his size, speed and athleticism will be appealing to many NFL teams.
And Hageman can likely play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, said Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. For a team that employs the 3-4 defense, Hageman could be a pass rushing defensive end. For a 4-3 scheme — which Minnesota currently runs — he fits well at a defensive tackle.
“For his height, he doesn’t have a lot of mass,” Claeys said. “But all of a sudden now, you’re picking up a 300-pound defensive end in the 3-4 who’s got some pass rushing skills, or in a 4-3 an athletic three technique. That’s the thing he’s got going for him. He can fit into either system. … He has all the athletic ability. That’s not going to improve any.”
The 2013 NFL Draft figures to be deep in regards to defensive linemen. Some early mock drafts have two defensive linemen going within the first five picks — and four within the first seven or eight. Sometimes, timing is everything when players decide whether or not to leave college early.
That’s part of it for Hageman, but there’s much more. Another year to get better individually. Another year to represent his hometown Gophers. And one more year in the classroom to obtain that important college degree.
After all of that, only then will the timing will be right for Hageman.
“With what we’ve done, we send stuff into the NFL. You get an evaluation, sit down and talk with the family. You always do what’s best for the kid and the best situation and so forth,” Kill said. “I think it’s one of those things where when we get the season over and we get the bowl game over, I’ll meet with every kid. … He’s that big. He knows he’s got some ability. It’s one of those things, I’ll rib him and say, ‘Hey now, you have to do this, do that. You’ve got a great opportunity ahead of you, but you’ve got to do this.’ …
“Does he have NFL ability and talent? I don’t think there’s any question about that.”