Gopher candidates for NFL Draft find the experience ‘overwhelming’





There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2013-14 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight these players.


This week: Gopher football players Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen


Ra’Shede Hageman
Ra’Shede Hageman

The waiting game hopefully is nearing its end for former Gophers Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen. These two are the only Minnesota players being considered in this year’s NFL Draft, which begins Thursday.

If projections are accurate, Hageman will be the first Minneapolis City Conference player to be selected in the opening round and Vereen, the Valencia, Calif. native, is being touted as a late-round sleeper. The MSR recently talked to both players.

“College is over,” admits the 6’-6” Hageman, who graduated last winter with a youth studies degree. “Now it’s time to think football — that’s what I love to do.” He adds that he has no pro team preference “as long as I am in the NFL.”

“It’s just a waiting game,” says Vereen. “I think being fortunate having [an] older brother [Shane, who plays for New England] gone through [it], I know what to expect.”

Brock Vereen
Brock Vereen

“I’m not worried about Brock [getting drafted],” says an optimistic Hageman, who some draft experts have as the second-best defensive tackle in the draft. “He [Vereen] showcased his talent at combine” in Indianapolis where both players participated back in February, as well as a local “pro day” held in March at the U of M indoor football complex. Both events allow pro scouts and coaches to see draft prospects go through speed and strength drills as well as holding one-on-one interviews with various teams.

Former Minnesota assistant basketball coach Silas McKinnie, now a longtime NFL scout, told the MSR that these workouts are just pieces of a large puzzle. “You start off watching tape [on the player] because the tape doesn’t lie,” he explained. “What you see on tape is the [player’s] resume.”

“I really enjoy it,” admitted McKinnie, who has been with Detroit since 2003 and with the Vikings before that (1997-2002). “It is a lot of hard work, probably harder than basketball because of the sheer numbers,” he said of his 15-year football scouting experience along with 25 years of coaching hoops.

Although he enjoys scouting, especially interacting with young men, “I don’t necessarily like airplanes and crowded airports — I spent a lot of time in airports and on airplanes. I’m probably near the end” and looking forward to retirement in the near future, said McKinnie.

The MSR also talked to NFL Network’s Mike Mayock about the Gopher draft candidates. “He’s got freakish athletic ability,” he says of Hageman, who he puts fourth on his tackles list. On the six-foot Vereen, a safety, the analyst notes, “I think he’s got a chance [to be drafted].”

Both Hageman and Vereen point out that their pre-draft experience has been, to say the least, eye-opening.

“You feel you’re always two steps behind,” recalls Vereen. “It’s such a fast-paced process.”

“At the combine I was asked between a cat and a dog, which one I would kill,” remembers Hageman. “I paused for a little bit to see what they meant by that. I told them I’m a dog lover. That probably was the weirdest question.” [For the record, Hageman didn’t disclose his full answer to that question.]

Finally, all mock drafts aside, the real thing starts Thursday, and both Hageman and Vereen will be waiting to hear their names called. “It’s kind of overwhelming,” concludes Hageman, now a Minneapolis Washburn and University of Minnesota graduate.


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