Alabama's Beast-in-Waiting: 2014 No. 1 Recruit
Da'Shawn Hand Still Biding Time
- Adam Kramer , National College Football Lead Writer
January 5, 2017
Three years ago, he was the No. 1 football recruit in the
country. He held more than 90 scholarship offers.
Photo Credit - Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
In a class made up of magnificent freaks—Leonard Fournette,
Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, Adoree' Jackson and Deshaun
Watson, the quarterback he will face Monday night in the
championship game for the second consecutive year—Da'Shawn
Hand was thought by many to be the freakiest of all.
The 6'4", 260-pound defensive lineman out of Woodbridge,
Virginia, could have played anywhere. Ultimately, he
committed to Alabama, a destination for fellow football
freaks looking to tap into their potential.
There, not long after he arrived, he bench-pressed 225
pounds more than 40 times as a true freshman.
"It was 42 or 43," Hand, now a junior, said. He couldn't
recall the exact figure, in part because he didn't view this
as anything out of the ordinary. Although since 2012, only
one player has eclipsed 40 reps at the NFL combine, the
ultimate scouting mecca.
Hand's freshman frame, almost free of body fat, has since
acquired 20 spectacular pounds. His neck is now akin to the
base of a mature oak tree.
He looks the part of a generational football talent, a
prototype: a lineman with NFL size and a shocking amount
"His combine is going to be freakish," said Hand's former
high school coach, Karibi Dede. "I can almost guarantee
he's going to break the bench-press record. He's going to
run a crazy 40. He's going to do things that people haven't
It's all there. All of it. And yet, entering his final game
of his third year with the program, Hand is a backup. Lost
in a diabolical rotation, he plays behind arguably the best
player in the country, potential No. 1 overall draft pick
Hand is the very definition of Alabama's startling talent
overflow, a cog in the talent factory that is Crimson Tide
football. But he sees a future free of the lower rungs on
the depth chart.
"I have the mentality that I get what I earn," Hand told
Bleacher Report. "Hard work pays off. Whenever my time is,
it's going to be my time."
Patience is no longer a word exercised in recruiting. When
a blue-chip prospect fails to deliver early on, the
assumption is something has gone wrong.
Photo Credit - Joe Murphy/Getty Images
For Hand, this couldn't be further from his reality. This
is precisely why he signed with head coach Nick Saban. To
be pushed. To struggle. To take on the most difficult path
to stardom imaginable.
"To watch kids shine and get the level of exposure that
came out in the same class as him, I'm sure weighs in the
back of his mind," Dede said. "He's just got to stay the
course. The idea that he's in a reserve role is nothing to
be ashamed of.
"He's a national champion and getting ready to perhaps win
another one. He's in a great position."
Two days before Alabama's 24-7 dismantling of Washington in
the Peach Bowl, Hand sat away from the spotlight during his
team's media day in the Georgia Dome.
As cameras and microphones swarmed others in the room, the
prospect most programs dream of landing once in their
existence sat quietly at a table with a few teammates in a
gray pullover. A walking boot guarded his left foot,
although he didn't seem concerned by the unexpected
"My foot is cool," he assured with a smile. "It's all good."
A mere 50 feet away, Allen fielded a barrage of questions
from the media.
The cameras cracked at his presence. The lights flashed.
The red lights of tape recorders and iPhones lined the table.
Allen, a senior star on a team occupied with stars, is used
to this by now. But it wasn't always that way.
Like Hand, Allen wasn't gifted a starting role on the
defensive line the moment he arrived. He had to earn his
time, just like everyone else on the roster, which he did
near the end of his sophomore season and into his junior
To see the field, he had to conquer his own defensive line
first, the place where Alabama's greatness begins.
"It's frustrating," Allen said of the wait. "You want to be
out there playing more than you are. But you have to just
make every play count."
Allen turned the wait into a seventh-place finish in the
Heisman vote and a future worth millions of dollars. The
expectation is that Hand, with only one season of
eligibility remaining, will do the same when he anchors a
defensive line that will look much different than it does
"He's improved tremendously," Allen said of Hand. "When he
came in, he was a young guy who relied on pure athleticism
to make plays. He's where I was last year at this point.
I'm expecting him to have a big year next season."
Through almost three full seasons, Hand has accumulated 43
tackles and seven sacks. He's totaled 12 tackles for loss.
Against Washington, he finished with one tackle.
When Allen needed rest, Hand ran onto the field. While on
the sideline, he waited anxiously, helmet on, hoping to tag
But it was only a year ago that Hand showed he could do
more, a lot more.
Photo Credit - Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Aiding a defensive line that exhausted itself chasing
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson around all evening,
Hand finished last year's national title game with two
tackles for a loss and four tackles overall.
It wasn't just the numbers, either. He was everywhere that
night. When given extended snaps, up against the team's
toughest obstacle of the year, he shined.
Those who watched Hand throughout high school knew a game
like that was coming.
A prodigy in Virginia, Hand garnered national attention by
his sophomore season. From there, the interest only grew as
word of his performances spread throughout the area and
Dede, now a Louisville assistant, coached Hand his senior
season at Woodbridge. A former player and coach at Auburn,
Dede had no idea what he was inheriting when he first took
Then the phone calls started. Not just from coaches, but
the media as well. They wanted to speak with one of the
country's elite prospects. Some wanted to broadcast his
life on a reality TV show.
"It was just amazing to watch him go against high school
guys," Dede said. "He could do anything on the field that
he wanted to."
These days, the stories regarding Hand's strength are
almost mythical. It wasn't just the way he tossed around
a barbell with 45-pound plates attached to each end with
It was the way he would toss a weighted medicine ball at
his trainer, Kevin "KJ" Johnson, a former boxer, who had
to gather himself the first time Hand's pass connected with
"It felt like a cannonball had hit me," Johnson said.
It was the way Hand would regularly push his trainer's
equipment to the brink and sometimes beyond. The sound of
resistance bands snapping like firecrackers would fill the
"If we were doing an explosive exercise using bands,"
Johnson added, "they were in constant jeopardy."
While working with Hand in a drill, Dede wanted to see
how all the weight-room brilliance would translate.
"You're not going to hurt me," he told him.
Photo Credit - Stacy Revere/Getty Images
When Hand made contact with Dede's chest, the coach
couldn't believe the force.
"He knew he could hurt me and didn't even apply everything
he had," Dede said. "I couldn't believe how strong he was."
Before he reached high school, though, Hand's schoolmates
questioned whether all that size would ever be put to good
use. Was he just a big kid with scant football skills or a
drive to develop them? This drove Hand to begin a daily
workout routine of 600 pushups and situps a night.
"I've seen him do 200 pushups straight without burning out,"
Dede recalled. It's a routine, according to his former
coach, that has followed him to Tuscaloosa.
All of it, the strength, sacks and production, led to a
ravenous recruitment. With so much interest, Hand and Dede
tried to be honest with coaches and teams that were out of
the running. Not rude, but open.
When Hand visited Alabama, however, he was hooked. With an
eye on the NFL, this was a natural fit. It seemed like the
destination that could push him further than any other.
"He [Saban] made a comment when he was recruiting Da'Shawn,"
Dede said. "He told him that guys have every opportunity to
come in and play as a freshman. But if we get a bunch of
freshmen starting on our football program, then we haven't
been recruiting and developing the right guys over the past
Hand committed to Alabama in November 2013. He was not
promised anything beyond an opportunity. As Saban does with
all of his recruiting pitches, he does not guarantee snaps
or playing time like other coaches and programs.
"He just challenges you to be the best," Hand said of Saban.
"It's the competition and also the success of the program.
It humbles you and teaches you the right way to do things."
Hand also liked the fit for reasons that are close to
him—reasons beyond football that he doesn't share with
anyone outside his inner circle.
When Dede first heard his player talk about life after
football, he was blown away. He had never heard an athlete
of his caliber, at his age, see beyond the sport at which
Many of the players that Hand came in with—Fournette,
Peppers, even Alabama tackle Cam Robinson—likely will be
paid millions of dollars to play football in the next few
But Hand's prospects, while bright on paper, don't come
with the resume of his classmates.
That's the price for playing for a college football dynasty.
Of the 55 players drafted since Saban arrived, almost none
stood out as a freshman or sophomore. They had to wait
their turn. Just like those before them, just like those
Still, Hand could leave Alabama for the draft after Monday
night's game if he so desires.
"The physical foundation is impressive, and he has shown
bursts of elite ability," an NFC scout said of Hand. "If he
came out now, I doubt he'd be a first-day pick, but he
wouldn't last past the second day on potential alone. If
he goes back, there's no telling how much he could help
Allen was in a comparable position last season, with more
film and playing time to work with.
Da'Shawn Hand (right) celebrates Alabama's win over
Florida in the SEC title game.
Photo Credit - Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Hand faces a similar but still unique decision. Those who
were with him before he arrived in Alabama would be
surprised if he declared.
"I don't believe you've seen the best of him yet," someone
close to Hand said. "And I think he shares that belief."
There's a phrase Saban uses with the entire team that has
stuck with Hand.
Be where your feet are.
For those waiting for their time at Alabama, no phrase is
more appropriate. It's a matter of staying grounded, no
matter the situation.
Hand's moment is coming. Perhaps it will arrive Monday
night, a fitting stage for a breakthrough and a worthy
encore. Or perhaps it will come next fall, when he will be
expected to be a star on what will still be, even with all
the departures, one of the best defensive lines in the
He will be the one holding back a collection of talented,
hungry underclassmen desperate to see the field. That's
just the way it's done in Tuscaloosa.
At some point in the near future, Hand's hard work will
At Alabama. On bench day at the combine. In the NFL, where
his size and abilities will fit right in.
"You come here and you work," Hand added. "You earn what