During the past four years, Da’Shawn Hand has convinced college coaches everywhere he is not the average football player. Blessed with imposing physical attributes at 6 feet 4, 256 pounds, the Woodbridge defensive end possesses a rare blend of athleticism and power that led 94 schools to extend him a scholarship offer and Rivals.com to rank him as the nation’s top recruit.
On Thursday, before hundreds of his classmates crammed into the Woodbridge gym and with thousands across the nation watching on television, Hand demonstrated why he’s not the average student-athlete.
Dressed in a khaki suit and sporting a bow tie, Hand pulled an Alabama hat from under a table to formally announce his choice of the Crimson Tide over Florida and Michigan. Moments later the All-Met’s comments didn’t focus so much on Alabama’s championship pedigree as they did on the school’s academic intrigue.
“Dean [Charles] Karr, the engineering dean, he’s a football guy. I love that guy,” said Hand, a self-described nerd who mentioned an earthquake simulator as one of the highlights of his official visit to Tuscaloosa in October. “I love civil engineering, and they have that major, and a couple players that actually play now are taking that major.”
It’s also hard to ignore the three national championship trophies the Crimson Tide has hoisted in the last four years.
“Why not go where there’s a great possibility you’ll win a national championship?” Hand added.
It wasn’t until Wednesday night that Hand finalized his college choice. After spending much of the day preparing for Thursday’s hour-long ceremony — held on his 18th birthday — Hand weighed the pros and cons of each school with his father, Sharif, during a car ride home.
As he digested a meal from Wendy’s, Hand said he got a gut feeling Alabama was the school for him. Once he shared the news with his family, Hand called the Florida and Michigan coaches before dialing Alabama Coach Nick Saban.
“He was like ‘Yaaayy!’ ” Hand said of Saban’s reaction. “I was like, ‘Whoa, Nick, is that you?’ Usually, he’s monotone, but he was excited and I’m excited.”
That excitement spilled over into Thursday’s event, which featured performances by the school’s step team, dance team and band. Hand was also presented with a birthday cake decorated with the logos of all three finalist schools and serenaded by the hundreds of family members, students, teachers and administrators anxiously gathered in the gym.
During the live telecast, Hand spoke by phone to former NFL coach Tony Dungy, punctuating a whirlwind recruitment that contained many pitches and a handful of visits but only one winner: the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
“I think any one of the schools would have been great for him, but he went with his gut feeling and made a decision,” Sharif Hand said. “I definitely didn’t think [his recruitment] would take off like it took off. But I’m definitely proud of him and how he handled it all.”
With Hand’s commitment, he follows in the footsteps of former Stone Bridge All-Met Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Allen, currently a freshman in Tuscaloosa, and DeMatha alums Arie and Cyrus Kouandijo, both starters on Alabama’s unbeaten team.