Football: Darian Hagan coverage

Here’s a feature that appeared in today’s paper. Cal cornerback Darian Hagan spent last season worrying about his young daughter, who was fighting a rare form of kidney cancer. He kept it a secret and didn’t make excuses.

I did two extensive interviews with Hagan for this story. Here is more of what he said:

On having is mom take care of business while he was in school:

“The good thing that was on my side was having the mother that I do have. She handles things for me that I can’t. She pretty much stood in for me and took everything upon herself to be there for me and represent me. She kept me updated with everything every day.”


On trying to focus on academics during his daughter’s chemotherapy treatments:

“That was the hardest thing, as far as school — being able to concentrate. Whenever I got free time, I just constantly wanted to know what was going on with her. I would just put things aside, like reading. I tried to cram it all at the end and it just killed me.”


On how often he got to visit Kaiyana during her illness:

“I got home a few times but not as much as I would have liked. When I went home, I just spend all my time with her. “


On improving in school now that Kaiyana is doing better”

There was a lot going on. I’m kind of over the hump as far as that goes. That’s a plus for me to be able to have a clear head and just focus on what I have to get done.”


On how the adversity during his college career has affected him:

“The things that I’ve been through the past five years – I’ve lost a grandfather, an uncle, my daughter’s sickness, school year in and year out, my football situation – everything that I have gone through has made me a lot more mature, a lot wiser to understanding that this stuff is important and I really have to get it done. I used to have just a football mindset. At an institution like this, academics is a must. You have to do that in order to get this.”


On the class he got his first A in this summer:

Social Welfare 116, a forensic social work class


On whether he will feel redeemed now that the public will know what he went through last year:

Regardless, I still have to come out here and make plays. If I came out and had the type of year I had last year, I really wouldn’t have an excuse. I just have to come out here and get back to the things I know I can do. When I have a clear head, I can be the best player that I’ve ever been. That’s just my main thing — keeping my head clear and focus on right now. That’s all I can worry about.”


His thoughts entering his last season:

“It feels good to still be here. I fought my way through some tough times, from academic to athletic as well. I stuck with it and tried to be strong through it all.”


On how tough academics has been:

“When you get set back, you get set back with football as well because you have to catch up with the academics. That pushed me into a tough situation. I got depressed at times. I just had to keep moving forward because I knew things would work out.”


On being held out of spring practice the past two years to focus on academics:

“Being out it in the spring, it helped the academic aspect. But you miss out on a lot of reps. We brought in Coach Pendergast so I lost a lot of reps, getting a jump on his defense. I was in the meetings but the physical reps are just as important as the mental. I think I kind of had a slight setback there. But I’ve been in the playbook really heavy.”


On making up for last year’s disappointment:

“Last year, I didn’t live up to the expectations that I have for myself, as well as everybody else. All of that is motivation to come out and prove to myself and to the fans that I can be the athlete that they expect.”


Whether sitting out his second spring in a row was a wake-up call:

“This being my second time around where I had to sit out a spring because of academics, I just turned it up a notch as much as I could this past summer. I got some of my best grades since I’ve been at Cal. I’m just trying to be more accountable in every aspect.”


On how tough the on-field disappointments were last year:

“It was tough. Going from the starter and being trusted to losing your job and then getting played as a spot player, it was kind of tough. It was something that I had to adjust to. I feel like I adjusted to it toward the end and I accepted the role. Every guy has to play a role. I just took it in a stride and studied as much as I could to be ready if I did have to go in. A few times I went in and I think I did pretty well.”


On last year’s expectations that he and Syd’Quan Thompson would make up one of the best  cornerback tandems in the country.

“That was a tough situation. Going from the best tandem in the Pac-10, I kind of just left Syd out there. He held his part and I didn’t hold mine. It’s all motivational for me to prove to myself and everyone else.”


On whether he thought it was fair that he got benched after the third game last year:

“I had the (knee) injury in camp. The first two games, I played defense but I didn’t really have as much of a separation to be the solid starter. I think it was fair for those guys to get a chance. They worked just as hard as I worked during camp. I actually wasn’t in camp (because of his knee). They were working their butts off. I think it was a fair chance for the young guys to get in there and get some experience out there.”


On how Jeff Tedford has worked with him on his academics:

“He’s the first person I talk to whenever it’s an academic situation. Through it all, even when I was at my worst in academics, he sat me down and talked to me one on one and told me he still believed in me. He gave me chance after chance. He just never gave up.”


On his mindset at the end of last season:

“When the season ended, I went home and looked at myself in the mirror and thought about the year, not living up to the expectations and everything like that. It just kind of motivated me. I spent some time with my family. I spent a lot of time with my daughter. Just looking at her, I wanted to get back up here so fast so I could get to work. All of that was just great motivation for me to just come back up here and get some things done.”


On whether he believes he should be the starter this season:

“That’s my goal, to come out here and prove to Coach P that I’m accountable and he can trust me out there as a starting guy. Both positions are pretty much wide open. The competition is high. Everyone is working their butt off. The best guy is going to get the position. But that’s my goal, to keep working day by day and gain Coach P’s trust.”


On whether having a new defensive coordinator provides for a clean slate:

“That helps. It’s a clean slate for everybody. But I was kind of set back after missing the spring. He gained trust in other guys for being out there. He said last year is out of the picture. He’s worried about what guys can do for him, not what they did in the past. I have a lot of work to do, missing the spring. I try to spend as much time as I can talking to coaches and trying to learn defense and understand what’s going on. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I never lost that. I just have to gain the confidence back with the coaching staff.”


On his NFL chances:

“My play can only determine that. Of course, I think about it. But I don’t want to let it hinder the way I actually come out and play. I don’t want to lose focus. I want to come out and take it one day at a time. If it happens, it happens. It’s one of my goals, of course. I just want to come out and play.”


On making it to his senior year after experiencing a lot of adversity:

“After having so many setbacks and still being here, going through all the adversity, that’s just a beautiful thing to me. I told my mother that I passed my classes, she started crying and I don’t even have a degree yet. Either way it goes, I want to leave with a degree, even If I don’t get a chance at the next level. I want to get that piece of paper.”


On how strong the possibility was that he could have flunked out of school:

“There were times I felt so overwhelmed with it. I just kept fighting to do my best with each situation. Every time, I did. There’s no other degree that would be worth as much as this one. I made the choice to come here. I would never back out of any commitment I make. But at times, I felt like there was a possibility that I would lose my eligibility.”

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • Holmoephobic

    Great journalism — great story. Darian Hagan is another example of the type of character-building Tedford has orchestarted at Cal.

    ““He’s the first person I talk to whenever it’s an academic situation. Through it all, even when I was at my worst in academics, he sat me down and talked to me one on one and told me he still believed in me. He gave me chance after chance. He just never gave up.”

    Sounds like a coach parents can and will trust their kids with.

  • milo

    Man to go through that while going through Cal academics AND football is just nuts. Kudos for Hagen for standing tall and getting through things.

    I think Hagan emerges as starter and if things go right he’ll be back to form and get to the next level, the NFL.

    Go Bears!

  • elbarto83

    The story and this list of quotes was truly inspirational. Thank you.

  • Thanks for the notes Okanes, it sounds like Hagan has really matured throughout the whole process. If he stays focused I think he’ll be one of the best corners in the Pac-10 this year.

  • Bobby

    On how Jeff Tedford has worked with him on his academics:

    “He’s the first person I talk to whenever it’s an academic situation. Through it all, even when I was at my worst in academics, he sat me down and talked to me one on one and told me he still believed in me. He gave me chance after chance. He just never gave up.”


    This attitude shows why Teddy belongs at Cal. Not the bowl streak, recruiting classes, near-decade of success, or stadium/SAPHC renovations. Tedford truly cares about his players, and appears to do all he can to see them through onto graduation.

    I am continually baffled why “fans” only look at wins and losses for our Cal football teams. Just glad Sandy Barbour appears to look deeper.

    Keep it up Hagan. Keep it up Teddy. Keep it up Bears!

  • Bears07

    Bobby, totally agree with you here. I re-read that quote 3 times.

  • wehofx

    I thought D Hagan was a punk. I take great pleasure in saying I could not have been more wrong. Congratulations, D Hagan! You’re right, the sheepskin and what it took for you to earn it is what really matters. (But I do hope DH will have great success on Saturdays this year!)

    Totally agree about JT. Another example of why he is the perfect coach for Cal.

    Go Bears!

    …oh, and excellent article, JO.

  • Bears

    Hagan has the talent to be an elite CB. It’s tough to hear a fellow Bear struggling the way he has. A guy with that kind of perserverance and talent you have to love. Wishing him and his team all the best for a huge 2010 season. Success in athletics does not get handed to good people or people who deserve it. D Hagan and his Cal mates are going to have to use everything they have learned and gone through to make this the year they all have the potential to make it.
    If he has a big year and the team makes a big time bowl he will be drafted and have a shot to make some big time NFL money. After his NFL career he will have that degree to do open a ton of doors too.
    Great stuff.

  • covinared

    I hope the now mature version doesn’t need to do the crip dance facing the opponent bench after making a routine play like he did last year in Minnesota on national tv. That was embarrassing for everyone involved with Cal.

  • Mr. B

    Growing up in the Bay Area, I followed 2 teams: the Bears and the Buffs. Really loved watching Darian’s father play QB and lead the Buffs to a share of the National Championship in 1990.

    Reading this story about Darian and his daughter is so affirming and inspirational.

    I wonder what it’s going to feel like for the each of them on Sept 11? Dad is now an assistant coach with the Buffs…

  • covinared

    you’d think jr. would have learned about the importance of birth control from sr. since they both left children back home when they went off to play ball.

  • abe

    i don’t know about y’all but i sometimes get this feeling that we should call this season the year of redemption. i say that cuz i feel like there is quite a few key players who are on the cusp of finally fulfilling the promise they have showed earlier: lets start with Hagan who finally broke out for good in ’08, or so we thought, (but now we know why he regressed last year), then there is Jordan, the perpetual underachiever who finally appears serious enough to fulfill his unbelievable promise, off course we have Riley, who showed some brilliance in 07 before being riddled with inconsistency, also seems finally at peace and ready to rock, (doesnt hurt to be a senior either), we have Calvin, who also had a lot of promise coming out of HS and showed some of it in ’08 before succumbing to yet another injury, to a lesser degree Kendricks also is yet to fulfill some of the early praise he got like from Worrell Williams who said Kendricks will be a household name before its all said and done and maybe others.

  • n8Bear

    Oh, so that’s what you’ve been working on, Jon. It does certainly give a deeper insight into coach Tedford. This is the coach we heard about in 2002 when he took a bunch losers and showed them the winners he saw in them. He’s strongest when he’s there for the players and winning is secondary to that. Maybe HE got lost in all the hype and success and hopefully now he’s getting back to his strength. I’m glad for that. I do hope him and the staff learn from Darian’s silence last season. Maybe if he would have shared what he was going through, he might have been able to sort some it out, made it easier on himself.

    And Abe, I think I agree with you. I get the vibe coming from what I read that the whole team is more focused on itself and its goals and potential. They’re hitting hard, having fun, getting back to playing football for the reasons we play football.

  • sethman

    @ covinared, what if ur parents knew the importance of birth control? And what does that even mean? Are u serious, after the situation he went thru with his daughter, that’s embarassing to everyone involved with the bears your saying that. That’s a very disrespectful comment to make about the young man, that you don’t even know and if in his presence u wouldn’t make, I hope Darian returns to his form in 08 and does great things for the bears this year, dance on DH dance on!

  • Go Bears

    Darian is my new favorite Cal player. When I was at Cal, I had money issues from the very start, which made academics very hard. So my heart goes out to him and I’m rooting for him both for success on the field and in the classroom.

  • Rollonubears

    The thing about hagan from 08 is that he dropped about 20 would-be picks. He needs to catch the ball. If he can, he’ll be the next nambdi.

  • covinared

    Seth: when you get a full ride scholarship at taxpayer expense to play football, you have a reciprocal duty to not put yourself in a position where you will be distracted from giving your best effort on the field and classroom. a person with enough brains to get into Cal should know about the birds and bees, especially Darian who was born when his dad was away in colorado playing ball and did not have much a a role in his life. Having a sick daughter does not justify taunting the opposing team’s sideline after making a routine play, especially in the midst of being torched for three scores. darian has a ton of talent that has been squandered for most of the time he’s been at Cal. I hope he comes around but have trouble excusing someone because of a situation he should have never been in.

  • EastCoastBearFan

    I’m totally ignoring the ignoramous CovinaRed (guys, no self-respecting REAL Cal fan would EVER use the word “red” in their handle!). He’s probably that moron Amy.

    Now, as far as the article, TERRIFIC piece of journalism Jonathon! For CucinaDead and any other naysayers, there but for the grace of God go we. Darian, we cannot even hope to understand what it was like to be in your shoes last year; I’d not wish that kind of pain and anguish on even my worst enemies. God bless you and your daughter for coming through to the other side of a terrifying turn of events, and always remember that the millions of TRUE Cal fans wer in your corner no matter what. And always will be. Best of luck showing the world what you’re really about, and all the best navigating the legions of NFL scouts who’ll come calling when you’ve finished your season and they see for themselves what you can do. GO BEARS!!!

  • Juancho

    This is pretty moving stuff. I’m going to root hard for Hagan. Great to see how much he is going to appreciate the degree too. Really cool article. All the best to him and his family.

  • Bruce

    I first and foremost would like to Thank Jonathan Okanes for a Great Piece and allowing Darians story to be heard! My name is Pier (I’m Darian’s Mom), I second would like to Thank the REAL CAL FANS for all their support! I will only give Covinared one second of my time and thats too say that first off Darian never used his daughter/my grand-daughter as an EXCUSE for his short comings or should I say an excuse for his performance last season.. There were Bigger issues going on then just FOOTBALL that was controlling Darian’s mindset. You could not imagine the pain We suffered watching such a small person battle a life threatening illness, while comforting Darian and pushing him to try and stay focused! At that time nothing other then the Good Health of his daughter even mattered but Thanks Be to God that we as a family were given another opportunity at Life because her illness was definitely a matter of Life or Death..Darian has struggled but the reward in all of this for me as a parent is through it all, he’s surviving Cal’s Academics :-), Football is secondary! Darian is just a couple classes away from graduating, in which that will be one of the Proudest Moments for Me as his Mother, so if this is the road that the Lord seen fit for us to go down so that we realize and appreciate the importance of Education then Hey so be it! All of the adversity Darian went through be it, his daughters illness to Academics or Football it has definitely taken My Son from a Boy to a Stronger Man and I will be FOREVER grateful to Coach Tedford, Coach Simmons and the entire coaching staff for that matter for NEVER giving up on my Son..So enough of the mushy stuff.. Kaiyana (Darian’s daughter) is doing GREAT!! Other then the scar that we now call her beauty mark you would never know this time last year her life was Critical.. Due to Chemo she couldnt attend the games last year because of her immune system being low, but she will be there this year wearing her Blue & Gold, Cheering on her Dad and the Golden Bears…With all of the institues that Darian had scholarship offers to, I’m overjoyed that he chose CAL, the institute where you can Get a Great Education and enjoy some Good Football!

    Oh and just one more thing Covinared unless you are Darian Sr. himself, you have no idea of what type of role he played in my sons life, he does not cripwalk for your information, he gets excited and does the Deion Sanders dance when he makes plays whether they’re routine or awesome plays (I think he looks rather silly myself!) and lastly he was taught the birds and the bees at the age of 7 and was given a more mature approach the day after turning 13, just wanted to give you a little more insight ;-)..The good thing about Covinared is that we can all use a couple Haters in our life! Thanks for Caring and Sharing…See you all September 4th!!! Are you ready for some FOOTBALLLLLLL… I sure Am!

  • Will


  • David

    Awesome article. Great to see Darian persevering through very difficult circumstances and getting his degree. Hopefully he tears it up this year!

  • covinared

    Pier: I apologize for the insensitive tone of of my posts involving your son and grandaughter. I should have mentioned and stayed focused on how much important the life of a young child is compared to my passion for Cal football. It can be hard sometimes to keep things in perspective. I am happy that your grand daughter has recovered and wish her a long a happy life.
    I began to follow the career of your son when I noticed his name in the local papers having followed the college career of his father. I remember him being quoted during the recruiting process saying that his father did not have a significant role in his life. I watched the glaring contrast of you both on local tv as he made his choice between usc and cal. You were seated straight up in your chair like a perfect lady beaming proudly at your slouched over son. The whole time I kept wondering how we at Cal could hold ourselves above usc in the non football qualities of our players when our star recruit makes his choice on tv more reclined than upright. I then wondered why he disappeared from the radar buried on the depth chart for as long as he did. The the story comes out that in the mind of the coaches simply was not focused and dedicated enough in practice to be considered for playing time and was on the verge of being cut from the team after being rated the top high school db in LA. I then heard about his renaissance and saw him turn into a near dominant corner in 2008. I thought he was the best corner I had seen in years at Cal, including Syd Thompson. He was perhaps my favorite player because he was from LA. He always sounded so intelligent and well spoken when quoted in the papers. Then something happened last year. I kept wondering how he could fall so far so fast. We all know now why now. For my insensitivity towards your grandaughters health and the emotional anguish your family faced last year I again apologize, but no matter whether you call it a crip, idiot or Deion dance it again shows a complete lack of class to run over to the front of an opponents bench and do what what he did to celebrate a routine third down pass break up. He brings all of us down when he behaves like that. Very few other major colege programs would tolerate such behavior from its athletes. I hope he will let his play do the talking this year and learn the importance of acting like a gentleman.

  • Bruce

    Super Excited for this upcoming Season! Feel we as fans should take more time supporting and uplifting our players, rather then placing them under our microcropes of how we feel their lives should be (how to walk, how to talk, how to sit upright for that matter..lol! Darian’s story was only proof that we as fans never really know ones struggle behind the scenes NOT an EXCUSE!! These guys are recruited from High School, you dont just show up to College a MAN with all the answers, the best lessons in life are through trial and error and as long as you learn from your mistakes, that in itself makes you a better person. I’m done, Again thanks for all the support, From Crenshaw to Cal, Our Family Bleeds Blue and Gold!!!

  • covinared

    Pier: I just reviewed the video of Darian’s decision on you tube, and my impression of now is different than my recollection. As you say, he was just a kid and I held him to too high a standard. He came across a lot better than I remember. I am sorry and regret my comments.

  • covinared

    Pier: After reviewing tape of last years Minnesota game, I realize that “crip dance” was an inaccurate and highly inappropriate description of what I saw. I apologize and regret my comments.