Long Road Could Take Potential Top Pick to GB

The Packers had a formal interview at the Scouting Combine with one of the draft's top defensive lineman prospects. It would be the culmination of a rags-to-riches story for a player who beat the odds after a challenging childhood.

Ra'Shede Hageman didn't need more than a split-second to answer this hypothetical question:

Would you be here today if not for Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle?

"No, not at all. Not at all," Hageman said the NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday.

Hageman is about two-and-a-half months from fulfilling his dream of playing in the NFL.

For what seems like a lifetime ago, playing in the NFL seemed like just that: a dream.

The beginning of Hageman's story isn't all that uncommon. The happy ending, however, is.

Hageman was born in Lansing, Mich. His father was never in his life and his mother battled drug and alcohol problems. When Hageman was 2, the family moved to the Twin Cities. The change of scenery did little to change his mother, who continued to lose in her battle against addiction. When he was 3, the Minnesota Department of Human Services placed Hageman and a younger brother, Xavier, into the foster care system. The boys returned to their mother several times during the next few years. His mother's addictions, however, returned every time.

To the rescue came Eric Hageman and his wife, Jill Coyle. The Minneapolis lawyers adopted Ra'Shede and Xavier when they were 7 and 6, respectively.

There were ups and downs along the way, but Hageman blossomed into a star basketball player capable of 360-degree dunks and a hot recruit in football at Washburn High School. He committed to Minnesota as a four-star tight end, though he was moved to the defensive line during his redshirt season. Hageman enjoyed too much of the on-campus good life, however, and saw his grades suffer.

When coach Jerry Kill was hired in December 2010, he brought in Hageman and his parents for a life-changing meeting.

 "The big focus was on academics, because that was right after Ra'Shede had had a pretty poor semester," Eric Hageman told MinnesotaAlumni.org. "I remember Coach Kill saying, basically, you stole the University of Minnesota's money last semester. This is totally unacceptable, it's going to change, and if it doesn't change, you're not going to last here. We applauded everything he had to say."

A changed man, Hageman earned honorable-mention all-Big Ten as a junior in 2012. As a senior, he was a first-team choice in the Big Ten and earned third-team All-American accolades.

"I was just blessed to be adopted by just great parents who kind of gave me another opportunity for a childhood, to be able to play sports, use that as an outlet," Hageman told Packer Report at the Scouting Combine. "That definitely helped me. I was able to trust my struggle and just kept moving forward. I definitely wouldn't have seen this coming."

Hageman (6-6, 310) is considered a first-round prospect, a spot he probably solidified at the Scouting Combine. He ran a 5.02 in the 40, jumped 35.5 inches and put up 32 reps on the bench. Among his formal interviews at the Scouting Combine was one with the Green Bay Packers, who have a major need on their defensive line with veteran starters B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and C.J. Wilson all heading to free agency.

Hageman is far from a finished project, as he acknowledged at the Combine. By "overthink(ing)" at times, Hageman has battled bouts of inconsistency.

"Really, I mean, I just had to catch up," Hageman said of the move to defensive tackle. "Obviously, there's a lot of great D-tackles here and I feel like I'm definitely a few steps behind them. I mean, this is my third year playing D-tackle and I've obviously got to where I am now just by being athletic and being strong. But I feel like there's a lot of D-tackles here that have been playing this position for a long time and I feel that I have to catch up. Just educate myself obviously on D-tackle and just be more fundamental because, especially when you get to the next level, I feel like everybody in the NFL is athletic, especially the D-tackles."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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