Hand ahead of the game

Typically, in order for a program to wow a top prospect, coaches need to show off championship rings and big stadiums and, more recently, fill up recruits with cookie cakes.

That's not the case with junior Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge). He wants to see more than just the football program, because he's interested in more. Engineering, business and graduation rates are all aspects that he has focused on in his recruitment.

"I think he likes to draw and break things and put them back together," Woodbridge assistant coach John Harris said. "At Virginia Tech, Coach [Frank] Beamer showed him the blueprints for the new practice facility. Da'Shawn was more excited about looking at the blueprints than anything else on the visit."

Hand believes he can keep the process under control as long as he sticks to his own blueprint throughout his recruitment. His grasp on the situation comes as no surprise to those around him.

"He's a kid who actually does research," Harris said. "Early in the process, he would ask some of the coaches questions that he already knew the answer to, just to see if they knew the answer. He wants to know if he could trust you, and then he'd keep talking to you. If he couldn't trust you, then he wouldn't go out of his way to call. The people he developed relationships with are the schools that have made it so far."

In his junior season Hand accounted for 110 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and three fumble recoveries. He was named a captain for Woodbridge as a sophomore, and his coaches often let him make his own decisions on the field. He has to explain why he made that decision, but his ability to do so says a lot about the ESPN Watch List defensive end.

It's no surprise then that Hand was selected as the RecruitingNation Junior of the Year.

Hand was also one of three junior recruits (Ross Pierschbacher and Quin Blanding are the others) invited to Nike's The Opening in the summer of 2012, which is normally reserved for top senior prospects. Hand held his own among the nation's elite despite being a year younger than most.

His talent has nearly every top program in the country after him, but Hand has already narrowed his list to five schools -- Alabama, Michigan, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.

That list isn't final, but getting down to those five was the result of his thought-out research, which started even before his junior year. Hand spoke of investigating aspects of various programs that most high school kids aren't even aware of.

"I want to know the APR [Academic Progress Rate], because the GPA ratings aren't exact. One thing about APR is that it shows what type of players are there," Hand said. "If they have people transferring, then it might mean something is wrong. It shows what kind of kids those coaches are recruiting, so that means they might have recruited bad players. I want to be around good people, so that matters."

To say he is unique would be an understatement. His ability, maturity and intelligence bely his age.

Being a leader and setting an example for his teammates is also a major focus, and Harris says this is part of what makes Hand such a standout prospect.

"He pushes everyone on the field, and also to get good grades. They argue about their grades like it's sports," Harris said. "It's competitive for him. He and one of his teammates argue about academics more than football. It's great as a coach when you have two kids arguing about calculus."