The facemask. Number 99. The punishing hits. Ra'Shede Hageman is certainly an imposing figure on the football field. He loves chasing down opposing quarterbacks and making them feel his wrath. But what is he like off the field? Turns out he is the biggest - literally and figuratively - goofball on the team.
GopherSports: You are a large man. Have you always been bigger than your peers or when did you really begin to grow?
Ra'Shede Hageman: I reached my growth spurt in eighth grade. I was a little taller than all the kids I played basketball and football with. I was pretty tall and skinny, so I was definitely abnormal from the beginning. That was one of the main reasons why I played sports because I was too big to do some of the other things. I just tried to stay active.
GS: We know you were an accomplished basketball player. Do you remember the first time you dunked?
RH: Eighth grade. It was a basketball tournament at Concordia. It was a fast break and I just closed my eyes and the next thing I know I am just hanging from the rim. I remember it like it was like yesterday. It was like reaching a manhood or brotherhood that I was able to dunk. I definitely felt that I was able to improve the rest of my game after I was able to dunk. I was the only one in eighth grade who could do it. I was in a tournament once and the other team saw me dunking in the layup line. Everyone was watching me and it was one of those "Aah" moments. Everyone was scared of me because I could dunk, so I used that to my advantage.
GS: You were taller than everyone in eighth grade, but when did you put on the weight and bulk up?
RH: I was always skinny in high school, especially my senior year. I was 6-6 with a six-pack and I miss those days because I was fit. I loved going to the beach and showing off my physique. When I got to college and the food and the lifting started, I lost track of the sit-ups and was focusing on the McChicken with cheese and Mesa pizza.
GS: So you keep your shirt on at the beach now?
RH: Oh no. I am too big. I have tattoos as well, so I still like to show off. I don't have the six-pack but I am still big and abnormal. There is no point in trying to hide what God gave you.
GS: Tell us about the sack competition among the defensive line?
RH: We just want to be competitive as a defensive line. We are a tight group. If one person is doing better then we hold a grudge and the best thing to do is compete and see who can get the most sacks. Right now D.L. (Wilhite) has the most sacks. I am eager and looking forward to the games to get some more sacks so I can catch him.
GS: Are you going to catch him?
RH: Yeah, that is my goal. I don't want him in front of me. Just the fact that he gets to show off and brag about it...I want to be better than him. It is all about competing.
GS: What does it feel like to hit somebody?
RH: I love it. It is am empowering feeling. You can be angry and go full speed. Then the coaches pat you on the butt and tell you to do it again.
GS: Is it a similar feeling to dunking a basketball for the first time?
RH: No, it is most definitely different. If I am having a bad day I can put the pads on and give somebody my wrath and let them know how I am feeling. Then the coaches congratulate you. Sometimes basketball does not go your way. You can miss a couple shots and may not dunk every ball. I think I stay more consistent running full speed at somebody than dunking a ball. That is why I chose football.
GS: You played tight end in high school. How did you end up on the defensive line?
RH: I was an All-American tight end coming out of high school and was recruited here as a tight end. I played tight end my freshman year when I was a redshirt. Then one day the coach saw me looking over at the defense and he knew right then and right there that I was a defensive player since I liked the contact. I did not totally like the blocking aspect of being on the offensive line. I like the physical aspect of defense and love trying to overpower everybody. Defense was the spot for me even though I was an All-American tight end.
GS: Have you ever asked coach Kill to give you some red zone playing time at tight end?
RH: Coach Kill knows I was a tight end, and I told him that if he ever needs me that I still have my hands. I am always going to have that talent. If he wants to do that then we can definitely work it out, but right now I just have to do my job on the defensive line.
GS: Your facemask has gotten a lot of attention this year? Why did you make the switch?
RH: I chose it because I needed something different, something nasty. When the new Batman movie came out this past summer I was a big fan of Bane. Bane beat Batman in the movie and he was the underdog and was able to overpower him. I just liked his whole swagger and how mean and calm he could be. I try to take that character to real life when I play football.
GS: Is that why you wear No. 99 as well, to go along with that nasty image?
RH: I had to pick it. No. 99 is what everyone looks for. All those small numbers are irrelevant. Ninety-nine is the biggest number on the field and I want to be the biggest person on the field. I want to represent that number and try to be a beast. Off the field I am just Ra'Shede, but on the field I am Big Shede.
GS: You keep talking about being mean on the field. How are you off the field?
RH: It's a man's game. You cannot show up every day smiling and laughing because then somebody is going to knock your head off. You have to have that mentality of being a man. When you cross those lines you have to have the mentality of being a man. Off the field, I am probably the goofiest guy on the team. I love telling jokes and goofing around with the defensive line because I am close with them. But when it comes to playing on Saturday, the other team does not care about you. They are going to go full speed, so you have to step your game up and become mean as well.
GS: A lot of people follow you on Twitter. You can get pretty deep with some of your Tweets. Where does that come from?
RH: That comes from within. People know you as an athlete before they know you as a student. I just want to keep it real. I have gotten a lot of compliments about how deep some of my Tweets are. I am not trying to sugarcoat anything. Everyone sees us with shoulder pads and cleats. They don't really see the real Ra'Shede outside of football. They just see a big, aggressive defensive tackle with a Bane facemask. They don't know about all the hard work I have put in or that I am also a father. They don't know that we have to maintain a certain GPA to play the game. They just see us as a football player. I just want people to know that we are student-athletes. We get up at 6 a.m. for a reason. Football is probably the longest internship I have ever had. Hopefully it works out for the long run. Plus, when you have the right music on you can Tweet about anything.
GS: You talked about being a father. Tell us about that.
RH: I have a 1-year-old little boy. His name is Zion and he definitely takes after his father. He is a knucklehead and goofy. That is definitely another motivation for me to keep grinding. I am blessed to have him.
GS: Is he going to be as big as you?
RH: He is definitely tall and lanky, but I think he is going to play baseball or maybe golf. There is no salary cap in baseball. I don't want him banging his head around in football like his father is doing.