Life wasn't easy for Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman growing up.
Adopted and struggling with his identity (according to John Rosengren, who penned an excellent piece on Hageman for SB Nation), football game something of a release for him. His challenges included many of the same for a lot of athletes and students alike - balancing partying and friends with school and practice.
Perhaps the strength it took for him to get past those things that forged him into the kind of player he is. Whatever the reason, we're looking at a high-level defensive lineman at the collegiate level, and one who's likely going to surge up draft boards after the Senior Bowl and Combine workouts.
Hageman is said to max out at 465 on the bench press, and he can squat 500. Looking at that kind of strength, combined with one of the most explosive first steps among all prospects, any defensive line coach will drool over the idea of that kind of athlete weighing in at over 300 pounds.
That sinking feeling is the one of you coming to the realization is far more likely to go in the top 10 than he is to be available at 15, but odder things have happened.
A defensive lineman's first step is the difference between chaos and neutrality. The ability to get in a gap and alter a blocking scheme is precious in the NFL - so few are able to do it against pro guards and centers, but Hageman has the potential to be able to do that.
As quickly as he's able to get off the ball, he has explosive strength in those first two steps, getting his shoulders even with blockers and penetrating into the backfield. In this play, in Minnesota's bowl game against Syracuse, the Orange attempt to have their center get a chip on Hageman and release to the next level, trying to give the guard a chance to come down on Hageman, and seal him off to the outside.
They fail in that effort, largely because Hageman is too quick for the center off the snap and too strong for the guard to get inside and control. He destroys this play nearly from the second the ball was snapped.
Syracuse struggled mightily in this game to stop Hageman, which is more or less true for most games Hageman played. Some of the Orange's struggles can be tied to a center who clearly could not handle Hageman 1-on-1, but they were trying to exploit his push up the field.
In this play, Hageman shows excellent vision, while displaying proper use of his hands to shed the block, keeping his eye on the running back. He read the option look, recognized his assignment - the dive back - and wrapped him up for a three-yard loss.
Like any young player, he isn't without fault. Hageman's role in the Gophers' defense was to get up field and attack whatever is in his path.
Sometimes he didn't push as hard as he could have, or didn't attack as explosively as he usually would. Some of it was caused by a lack of recognition on the line, like in this play against UNLV earlier this season. He doesn't immediately face a blocker, so he's likely reading pass. The center and guard deliver a strike against him in concert, and Hageman, who's pushing into the backfield, is too high, negating all of his powerful lower body. He's taken out of the play and it goes for a big gain.
Some concerns that have been said about Hageman in the past is what can seem like an off-again, on-again level of motivation. When he's focused, he's utterly dominant, but he isn't displaying that kind of effort on every play. At the same time, a quality support structure around him and an outstanding defensive line coach can help continue building his technique and his focus.
In the right environment, it wouldn't be surprising to see Hageman end up one of the better 3-technique defensive tackles or 5-technique defensive ends in the NFL.