Every year, there are a few recruits casual college football fans should know. For the 2014 class, one of them is Da'Shawn Hand of Woodbridge (Va.) High School. He'll make his college choice Thursday at Noon ET. The decision can be seen live on Washington Post Live, Yahoo! Sports and NBC Sports Network.
Hand is a consensus five-star recruit, and is probably the best strong-side defensive end prospect in the country. He holds offers from every major school in the nation and has been a major prospect for the entirety of his high school career.
Hand has three finalists: Michigan, Alabama and Florida.
Hand visited Florida last weekend, and while I do think he fits Florida's defense quite well, the atmosphere at Florida for its loss to Vanderbilt was rather underwhelming, with fans chanting for coaches to be fired. Is one of the top prospects in the country really going to leave home and choose a school with as much uncertainty as currently surrounds the Gators? I can't see that, despite Florida's strong academics -- an important part of his recruitment.
I believe this is actually a battle between Alabama and Michigan. Those are the two programs Hand really liked since late in the summer, when I had the chance to interview him several times.
Hand recently visited Tuscaloosa and really enjoyed the trip. Alabama is the top program in college football right now, and it turns out pro players at ridiculous rate. Hand would be able to show off a variety or skills playing both as a stand-up player and with his hand in the dirt. But does hand want to play linebacker? There's uncertainty there. Also, because Alabama recruits so well, Hand is not the lock for early playing time that he would be at the other two schools.
The Wolverines are my pick over Alabama. I believe that Michigan's coaches have the best relationship with Hand. And while Brady Hoke's tenure has been a disappointment so far, most of that disappointment is with the offensive side of the ball. Michigan is pitching Hand on being part of a special turnaround, along with 2013 recruits QB Shane Morris and RB Derrick Green, and 2014 No. 1 athlete recruit Jabril Peppers, who is in Hand's ear. Early playing time, and perhaps a starting role, is there to be had at Michigan, and Hand loves the academic situation, as well. I've thought Michigan would be the pick for Hand since late summer, and I'm sticking with it.
Hand was once considered by some to be the No. 1 prospect in the country, but as the recruiting process unfolded, other prospects separated themselves from the pack. Hand is still elite, but he is not head and shoulders above all other prospects as some believed.