ASU's Hagan All Smiles

Oct. 3, 2005

ASU's Hagan all smilesFormer Palmdale receiver excels at ASUBy Matthew Kredell, Staff Writer

Derek Hagan glides around college football fields with such confidence and purpose, it is difficult to believe he once was an awkward sophomore at Palmdale High.

At 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds, he wasn't as much skin and bones as he was teeth and gums.

'He was this skinny little kid with a big smile that filled up his whole face,' Hagan's high school coach Jeff Williams remembered. 'It was the first thing you noticed when you saw him, this big smile and a gleam in his eye. That's why we nicknamed him 'The Grinch.'

Hagan has a lot to smile about these days. With hard work that began after that sophomore year of high school, he blossomed from gawky kid to mid-level recruit to a star at Arizona State and one of the top receivers in the country.

'He is one of the top guys we have ever played,' said USC coach Pete Carroll, whose team faces the Sun Devils today in Tempe, Ariz. 'He has been productive for years. He was a big-play guy as a sophomore, and he hasn't backed off a bit. He is a great route runner, has terrific downfield speed and can make big plays.'

Already this season, Hagan set Arizona State records for career receptions and receiving yards. He needs one touchdown reception for the school mark. Last week against Oregon State, Hagan had 11 catches for 193 yards and two scores.

A lot of Pacific-10 Conference coaches agree with Carroll. However, none of them were interested in Hagan when he came out of Palmdale four years ago. Arizona State was the only conference school to offer a scholarship.

Hagan was a good, but not dominant, high school player.

During his sophomore year, Hagan decided to concentrate on football. His father, Derek Hagan Sr., loved baseball and wanted his son to grow up to be a professional baseball player.

'For him to come up and tell me, I thought, 'OK, it seems like you've thought it out and have a plan,' ' Hagan Sr. said. ' `If that's what you want to do, just make sure to stick to your plan.' He's still very focused to this day.'

Hagan began hitting the weight room. By his senior year, he was 6-2 and 185 pounds. He now weighs 202.

He started at defensive back as a junior with the Falcons and caught 15 balls on offense. Knowing he would be counted on more as a senior, Hagan organized regular summer workouts with a few teammates.

That year, Hagan set the Palmdale single-season record with 65 receptions for 843 yards and five touchdowns. Still, Hagan had just one 100-yard receiving game in high school. He has a school-record 15 at Arizona State.

He orally committed to UNLV but dreamed of playing in the Pac-10. When Arizona State came with a late offer in January 2002, he changed his plans and became a Sun Devil.

Hagan quickly showed the same work ethic he had at Palmdale, arriving early at Arizona State the summer before his freshman year to work with the team. He learned from senior Shaun McDonald, now with the St. Louis Rams.

The head start helped Hagan contribute as a freshman. He broke out as a sophomore with 1,076 yards and nine touchdowns. Last year, he had 83 catches for 1,248 yards and 10 scores.

'Derek is a hard worker,' Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said. 'Not all our best players here have been great practice players. Derek Hagan is a great practice player, and that sure sets a great example for the young guys.'

Not only does Hagan set an example on the field and the weight room, he also spends hours a week watching film with receivers coach Darryl Jackson. In addition to breaking down opposing teams, they study NFL receivers such as Randy Moss, Chad Johnson and Jerry Rice.

'Every receiver is always in the media room watching tape and in the weight room trying to get stronger,' Hagan said. 'We also work out on the field to improve our quickness, and I think that I personally have worked very hard to get where I am. Once you do all that stuff, it pays off for you.'

Recruiting guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Hagan the second-best senior wide receiver prospect in the nation for next year's NFL draft.

He is expected to be the top local prep product taken, as well as the first Palmdale player ever to be drafted.

'With his attitude toward the game, we knew the sky was the limit for him,' Williams said. 'He creates a lot of his opportunities. This is just another he created through his hard work.'

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