FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As he stood at his locker with his sweatshirt hood covering his head, Atlanta Falcons rookie defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman, in a monotone voice, somewhat downplayed the significance of Sunday's road matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
The game no doubt means a little something extra to Hageman, considering he grew up in the Minneapolis area and played college football at the University of Minnesota. Approximately 15 of his family members and friends are expected to attend the game. His college coach, Jerry Kill, could be in attendance as well.
Surely a handful of others will attempt to prod Hageman for tickets.
"I'm going to be more focused on preparing myself to play rather than buying people tickets," Hageman said.
That falls in line with the advice Falcons coach Mike Smith offered.
"I'm sure he's going to have a lot of ticket requests," Smith said. "My first thing I would tell him is, 'Don't honor all of them. Save your money.'
"But for Ra'Shede, it's an opportunity for him to go back home. And I'm sure he'll have his family there. Ra'Shede has continued to get more playing time. He got more playing time in the ballgame on Thursday night [22 of 60 defensive snaps]. Again, we think he's going to be a really good player for us. When it kicks off, it doesn't matter where the game is being played. It doesn't matter who is in the stands. It's really about you playing against the guy you're lined up against."
Since the Vikings are waiting for a new downtown stadium to be built, Sunday's game will take place at the same TCF Bank Stadium where Hageman played his college home games. It opened in 2009, which was Hageman's first year at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were 17-18 at the venue with Hageman on the team, including his redshirt season.
"It's just a regular stadium, man," Hageman said. "There's no magic about it. I actually was there when it first got built. We played Air Force the first game. It's a great environment; great facility. And, just look forward to going to Minnesota and playing against [the Vikings]."
Eric Hageman is eager for his son's return.
"We're all really excited to have Ra'Shede come home to Minnesota and play in the stadium where we've watched him play so many times over the past four years," the father said.
"My two personal favorite memories were watching Ra'Shede play his best college game as the Gophers beat Nebraska last year for their fourth straight Big Ten win. And, of course, Senior Day, which was made even sweeter because Ra'Shede had just finished his final class and was actually graduating from college, which, to us, was a more significant accomplishment than anything he ever did on the field."