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.