Hageman bracing for bright lights of NFL’s draft showcase

Since Ra'Shede Hageman finished his senior year at Minnesota -- during which he had 13 tackles for loss, two sacks and eight pass breakups -- he took part in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and put up some impressive numbers. Thus, he might be a first-round draft choice in early May.

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MINNEAPOLIS — At 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, Ra’Shede Hageman can’t just buy a fancy suit off the rack at Men’s Wearhouse. The former Gophers defensive tackle has a reason to go buy a custom tailored suit: he’s going to the Big Apple.

Hageman found out Monday night that he’ll be at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the 2014 NFL Draft on May 8. Only a certain number of players garner an invite to attend the draft, and it’s usually a club reserved for those expected to go in the first round.

That’s where Hageman is projected to land, and his stock has risen a bit since he finished his senior season at Minnesota. Being on that stage in New York and shaking the hand of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell while being watched by a national TV audience means Hageman will have to dress the part.

"We’re actually working on that. I have to get back in touch with my agent and kind of focus on that," Hageman said Tuesday after he watched his former team’s spring practice. "But right now, the suit can wait. I’m still trying to get fit so I’ll be able to fit in a suit. That’s the most important thing. You don’t want no buttons popping out."

Regardless of what Hageman does wear when his moment in the spotlight comes, one thing is certain: his presence at the draft will be a big boost for the University of Minnesota, which has only had one first-round pick in the last 20 years. That was running back Laurence Maroney, who went 21st overall to New England back in 2006.

For a football program on the rise, the national exposure that Hageman will receive on draft day can go a long way.

"Nothing makes you more proud. Ra’Shede and I, we go way back here," said Gophers head coach Jerry Kill. "To see how that young man’s handled himself right now, it’s just tremendous. He is doing a great job. Every time you watch TV — some of those guys don’t do that — he’s got Minnesota gear on. You’re talking about a great advertisement for the university."

Since Hageman finished his senior year — during which he had 13 tackles for loss, two sacks and eight pass breakups — he took part in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and put up some impressive numbers. He’s also been working out at NX Level in Milwaukee, the same facility that Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt trains at in the offseason.

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Hageman and Watt have yet to work out together but Hageman has been able to pick the brain of Watt, a Pro Bowl defensive end who played for Hageman’s rival school, Wisconsin, in college.

"He talked about the Axe, but I kind of had to swallow my pride because I was in Wisconsin territory," Hageman said. "Being in the same facility as him and watching him work motivates me and lets me see things from a different perspective about how Pro Bowlers work. I feel like that’s a pretty good thing, just being around people like that."

Watt was a first-round pick in 2011 when the Texas took him 11th overall. Hageman won’t be picked that high, but recent mock drafts have him going anywhere from mid-first round to early second round.

Players invited to New York for the draft are given tickets for up to four family members and friends. Hageman is keeping it "plain and simple" by bringing his parents, Eric and Jill, who adopted he and his brother years ago after they bounced around from foster home to foster home.

May’s draft — and Hageman’s trip to New York to attend it — is a sign of just how far he’s has come, both on and off the field. And the fact that the Gophers have a chance to see a former player taken in the first round shows how far Minnesota’s football program has come, as well.

"We obviously have the talent. We have the coaching staff that can do that," Hageman said. "For the kids to be able to see that, it obviously gives them the fact that the sky’s the limit and there’s every opportunity in front of them to succeed to do that. Just the fact that me getting an opportunity to do that kind of opens eyes for Minnesota as a whole."

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