“The city I was from, you either go this way or that way,” Hageman said. “I just (stayed) positive and used football to my advantage and got where I am because of that.”
Football transformed him. After being projected as a first-round pick, the Falcons scooped him up in the second round (37th overall) of the NFL draft on Friday.
“Now, there is some baggage there,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “He just had a brutal upbringing. What he went through early in his life, you don’t wish on anyone.
“You can understand that there have been some issues in his life with anger management and so on, but you understand it. That’s the best way to put it.”
His life stabilized with his new family and several coaches at Washburn High in south Minneapolis, Hageman developed into one of the nation’s top tight end prospects. At 6 feet 6 and 260 pounds, he caught 11 touchdowns passes as a senior and played in the Under Armour All-American High School All-Star game before signing with the University of Minnesota.
Once on campus, he was redshirted and was converted to a defensive lineman after adding 20 pounds.
Before he graduated last December, he was named to the All-Big Ten first team, making 13 tackles for losses. When the Falcons chose him, he became the highest drafted Minnesota player since running back Laurence Maroney went 21st overall in 2006.
The Falcons plan to use Hageman, who is now listed at 318 pounds, as a defensive end in their 3-4 alignment, lining him up over offensive tackles and sometimes the tight end.
The team became impressed with Hageman while coaching him in the Senior Bowl, where he became a favorite of defensive line coach Bryan Cox. Hageman particularly impressed Cox when he didn’t complain while doing “up-down” drills after making a mistake.
“Brian worked those guys extremely hard and Ra’Shede just kept on going, took it all in,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “I think it will be a good working relationship moving forward.”
Hageman used the time to get to know Cox, too.
“He told me the difference between college and NFL football is the coaching and teaching,” Hageman said. “I definitely learned a lot from Cox because he played at the professional level and it’s easier for me to understand.”
Hageman played several positions along Minnesota’s defensive line and he believes he can make the transition to a 3-4 end for the Falcons. He could also play defensive tackle when they shift into the 4-3.
“The fact that coach (Jerry) Kill, my college coach, threw me in there when I was playing at Minnesota (helped),” Hageman said. “They had me playing end, so if that’s what they want me to do, I’m going to take that (opportunity) and play defensive end.”
If there was predraft criticism, some contended Hageman was inconsistent and not as productive as his size and athleticism would indicate.
“He has to play with better leverage,” McShay said. “He’s got to be more consistent with his hands. He’s got long arms. He moves well. He’s a massive dude. … He’s got just a ton of potential. He’s one of the real physical freaks in this draft.”
Draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki described Hageman as the “classic boom-or-bust” prospect.
“I feel like it takes a man to obviously speak about his flaws,” Hageman said. “At the end of the day, they’re not permanent and I obviously have time to change them. And as soon as I get comfortable, get the proper teaching, I’ll be fine.”