DEKALB, Ill. – Growing up in Jordan, Richard Hageman played 8-Man football until his senior year when the Mustangs reclassified to 6-Man. Now, Hageman find himself on the sidelines at Group of Five powerhouse Northern Illinois.
“Going into games at this level, I’ll have the same mindset as a player preparing for Wibaux or whoever as I did in preparation for Nebraska this year,” Hageman said regarding the jump to the FBS level. “That big stage, that stuff doesn’t really affect you when you’re in the moment.”
After graduating from high school, Hageman enrolled at Montana Tech where he played football for the Orediggers. However, after one year, he transferred to Montana State.
“The best decision I ever made was transferring to Bozeman after a year at Montana Tech,” Hageman said. “I knew I might have to give up football, but I took a liking to just how tough the college grind is. As a player, I didn’t realize how much preparation goes into a game until I became a coach.
“People who go from 6-Man or 8-Man to 11-man and prosper at the collegiate level, I have a lot of respect for them. I struggled learning 11-man, it was tough. But in the end, football is football, and I’ve realized that at every stop I’ve been at.”
It was at Montana State that Hageman was given his first opportunity to coach. Hageman finished his days as an assistant special teams coach and offensive assistant with the Bobcats under Rob Ash.
“He really means a lot to my career,” Hageman said of former Bobcat coach Rob Ash. “Coach Ash gave me an opportunity to play for the Cats, and then when I was done playing, he gave me the opportunity to coach, and that opportunity was huge. It’s hard to put into words how thankful I am to have the opportunities I’ve had.”
Since his time at Montana State, Hageman has bounced around coaching at different levels. He spent one season as the tight ends/fullbacks coach for the University of Minnesota Crookston, a Division-II school, before he landed a job with the Indoor Football League’s Arizona Rattlers. When the FBS rang, Hageman continued his move up the coaching ladder.
Northern Illinois has had a period of sustained success on the football field. In 2013, the Huskies qualified for the Fedex Orange Bowl, but ultimately lost to Florida State. Hageman believes the success of the program is a direct reflection of those running it.
“The biggest thing here is the staff. The coaching staff is bonded, close, and down to earth,” said Hageman. “They’re just blue-collar, hard-hat, lunch-pail guys who go in, go to work, know when to have fun, and know when to be serious. Just the foundation and the way the coaches go about their business, how Montana-esque they are, and how good of people they are is what ultimately stands out. It’s a family-type atmosphere.”
Hageman spent the past six months as the defensive backs assistant and defensive quality control coach for Northern Illinois. On the day after Christmas, the Huskies squared off with the Duke Blue Devils in the 2017 Quick Lane Bowl from Detroit. While Duke came out with the win 37-16, Hageman valued the experience gained.
“It’s really hard to go down by 14 points against a really good opponent and fight your way back,” Hageman said of their defeat. “When you come out and get punched in the mouth like that, you kind of sit back on your heels the rest of the game. We couldn’t get off the field on third or fourth down, and it was tough on our defense, as well as our offense. Duke’s a really good football team, there’s no doubt about it.”
With the move to the FBS level, Hageman has been exposed to some of the most exciting individual talents the country has to offer. But one name stood out above all; a name with ties to a certain Montana coach.
“The best player we had to prepare for all year was San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny,” Hageman said. “Coach Bobby Hauck was coaching down there, and Penny was probably the toughest guy. He’s an outstanding back. He was a Heisman (Trophy) candidate and really made our job tough.”
Hageman knows college football is a crazy business, but as for now, he seems content being at Northern Illinois.
“Right now, I’m going to stay at NIU and worry about what’s in front of me: the offseason, getting guys ready to go. It’s hard to speculate anywhere, but as far as staying at NIU, as of right now, yes, that’s the plan,” he said.