The top player in the nation, Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va. Woodbridge), has shaken up his group of finalists, and that’s great news for Alabama who will host the five-star defensive end in the second week of July. Hand has dropped his presumptive leader Virginia Tech and South Carolina from his top group, leaving the Crimson Tide, Florida and Michigan as the leading candidates for the 6-foot-5, 247-pound end.
Hand visited Michigan earlier this spring and after the commitment of fellow five-star recruit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J. Paramus Catholic) committed to the Wolverines, I believed they were the front-runners for him and immediately discounted his in-state program despite his close relationship with Bud Foster. Hand has now discounted the Hokies as well, but all along you had to wonder when Alabama would make their push for Hand, who has combined for 194 tackles, 54 tackles for loss and 37 sacks his last two seasons.
I don’t give Florida much of a chance to land Hand and the primary factor they are even in the running is the hiring of defensive line coach Brad Lawing. Hand has said if Lawing weren’t at Florida he wouldn’t be considering Will Muschamp’s Gators. That means it’s a two-team race for Hand between Michigan and Alabama, and as we all saw to start the 2012 season, Michigan isn’t much competition for Nick Saban and the Tide.
Saban is the greatest closer in recruiting and when Hand takes his second trip to Tuscaloosa this July, you know he will make a favorable impression on Hand who has kept his feelings close to the vest. He has an official visit planned to Ann Arbor where the Wolverines’ exceptional class appeals to Hand, but this is a race that will go back and forth throughout the year and won’t have a resolution likely until signing day.
Michigan would be a great place for Hand, where he and Greg Mattison have formed a close relationship, and he could be the key in the Wolverines landing the top class in the nation. However, when Hand makes his decision, I expect him to pick Alabama and play in the SEC, where he can compete for championships and be one of Saban’s next defensive disciples to go on to NFL stardom.