That left him where he is today, with a final three of Alabama, Florida and Michigan. Most recruiting gurus believe he is leaning toward Michigan, but Hand himself won’t give the slightest clue — or even acknowledge whether he is even leaning anywhere in the first place. He will, however, be making some official visits this fall, beginning with Michigan next month.
“After four years of sales pitches, I think that stage is over,” Harris says. “The last sales pitch they have is just this [football] season coming up.”
Ready for the future
What little Hand says of the recruiting process these days is mostly in terms of how done with it he is — how mentally checked out of the process he is. He tilts his cellphone to show the “messages” screen: There are 36 unread texts.
“Everything’s going by too fast,” he says. “Some days I’m just like, ‘No.’ . . . Sometimes I just don’t like dealing with the world. I just put everybody on hold. But then afterwards, I’m like, ‘Dang, I hope nobody’s feelings [got] hurt.’ ”
Several times, Hand has taken a personal vacation from the recruiting game, sending texts to all the college coaches — there are strict limits on how many texts the coaches can send recruits but no limits the other way around — that he was going to be laying low for a while. When one coach violated his embargo, he nearly struck the school from the list on the spot.
“Times are different now,” said Xenia Boone, Da’Shawn’s aunt and Damone Boone’s wife. “In Damone’s day, all he had to do was turn off his pager and take his [landline] phone off the hook, and he was unreachable.”
The pitfalls for the superstar young athlete are the same as they have ever been, only now those pitfalls have more and better means of making their way to your doorstep.
“I talk to him about what’s out there — about the peer pressure and the girls and what can happen,” Sharif Hand said. “Diseases. Pregnancy. How to stay safe. Especially now, with all the attention he’s getting, I talk to him about that a lot. And so far, so good. . . .
“We try to prepare him, but you can only do so much, and then you’ve got to let them get out there in the world.”
Back at World Gym, Team Ascension’s workout is over. Da’Shawn helps put away the equipment, then smiles and offers his massive hand for a death-grip handshake to anyone dumb enough to accept. Heads pivot on the stationary bikes and ellipticals as he turns to leave.
His goals for these next few months, he says, are simple: “Fun. Fun and success. Play football. Live life. Not care. That’s about it.”
He blows through the door and out into the parking lot. He’s young and free and unburdened, for the time being.
And it’s a beautiful day outside.