It was only when Nick Saban realized that Da’Shawn Hand was just as motivated to learn how Bryant-Denny Stadium was built as he was about one day playing inside Alabama’s historic stadium that he was able to earn his commitment.
John Harris, who was Hand's position coach at Woodbridge (Va.) High School from 2010 to 2012 and still serves as Hand’s mentor, said that his prized pupil’s desire to be elite on the field and in the classroom ultimately led him to choose Alabama over Michigan and Florida.
“His dream is to become an engineer and design stadiums and buildings just as much as it is to get to the NFL,” Harris said. “I think Alabama did a great job of understanding both dreams.”
Hand, who is rated as the nation’s top prospect at his position according to 247 Sports, is an active member in the community in his hometown located just south of Washington, D.C. That means serving as a volunteer at youth football camps and going to read to elementary school children.
That same work ethic and dedication helped turn him into one of the nation’s most coveted recruits in the 2014 class.
“Da’Shawn is the type of kid that will come by on a Saturday morning and my doorbell will ring and it’s him like, ‘Come on coach, I’m ready to lift weights,’” Harris said.
Saban, who is noted for seeking traits such as mental toughness and character in the recruiting process, scored big by landing a player who is well-versed in the principles of the process.
On the field, Saban is getting a versatile athlete whose skill set stands out because of his ability to play multiple positions in the Tide’s defensive scheme.
“They’re getting a kid that can play with his hand on the dirt, or who can stand up at the Jack (line) backer and cover a tight end if he has to or play the run,” Harris said. “He’s a kid that if they tell him to play nose guard, he’ll do that too.”
After coming up just short in the quest to land a marquee defensive end such as Jadeveon Clowney and Robert Nkemdiche in previous classes, Saban finally struck gold with Hand.
The 6’4”, 254-pounder racked up 40 sacks and 59 tackles for loss in his first three years on the prep level in a system similar to what he will play in college. However, where he will ultimately line up may not be decided until he arrives on campus next summer.
“My guess is that he would probably be a defensive end because he’s such an elite pass-rusher, but you never know because he’s a better cover guy than most people give him credit for,” Harris said.
Similar to his good friend, fellow Virginia native and 2012 Alabama signee Jonathan Allen, Hand is expected to come in and make an early impact for the Tide next season.
Walking out of Wiz game on concourse I saw Ryan Kerrigan and Da'Shawn Hand. Hand is noticeably bigger & he's in HS. Kid got mobbed by fans.— Chase Hughes (@chasehughesCSN) November 20, 2013
Harris expects nothing less from a player who has made a habit of exceeding expectations.
“He’s a competitive kid who is going to come in for the first few weeks and see what the bar is and do everything in his power to raise it,” Harris said. “I’m excited to see what he’s going to do when he gets down there.”
*Sanjay Kirpalani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247 Sports.