It is common for athletes to be compared to other great athletes, or to be asked if they want to be like some other outstanding player, and the answers vary from naming that hero-figure to a more standard reply along the lines of “I just want to be myself.”
Being confused for another athlete is another situation.
At Alabama, there are players with duplicate numbers, usually one on offense and the other on defense, and frequently one or both being down the line players. Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban once commented that every player wanted to have a number under 10.
Two of those players with duplicate numbers – and numbers under 10 – are men who were backups last year, but might be starters in 2016. But before they were so well known, there was a bit of confusion at a media event in Glendale, Ariz., in January when Bama was preparing for the national championship game against Clemson.
A radio sportscaster grabbed defensive end Da’Shawn Hand and began interviewing him. But he had the wrong No. 9.
The interview began with the radio host saying, “All right, one of the guys that’s going to be toting the ball next year, number 9, Bo...”
Hand said, “And then the other guy was looking at him like, and I’m just like, ‘Whoa.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, Bo Scarbrough, how does it feel to be behind Derrick Henry.’ And then the other guy said ‘Well, I don’t know about that, but he might be hitting Derrick Henry in practice. He’s one of the 14 guys on the D-Line.’
“It was a little mix-up, but we’re both big and we both wear No. 9.”
Hand also got a kick when asked if anyone ever confused him for Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxer, to whom he does bear a resemblance.
“Aww, man,” he protested. “Come on. Don’t do me like that.”
Then he admitted, “You know, I’ve actually gotten that before. It is what it is. He was great, he was aggressive.”
But, he said, “I like to think I just look like Da’Shawn Hand.”
Alabama coaches probably liked what they saw of the 6-4, 278-pound junior defensive end at the end of last season. Hand was a back-up on the Tide’s talented defensive line who was particularly effective in pass rush situations. He had four tackles in Bama’s 45-40 win over Clemson to win the national championship and two of those tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. For the year he had 16 tackles and was in on seven behind the line, including making three sacks, and he had two quarterback pressures.
This spring he is working on a defensive line absent all three starters from last year – A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed having moved on to likely NFL careers and Jonathan Allen sitting out contact work as he recuperates from off-season shoulder surgery.
Earlier this spring Saban said that Hand was doing well, that he had picked up weight and strength.
Hand said that he didn’t keep up with his weight. “I just try to get better day-by-day,” he said. “My size never bothers me. I just lift weight and run and try to get better and my body goes along.”
That philosophy includes not looking back at his good performance in the College Football Playoff games. “That game was in the past,” he said. “I don’t think about that anymore. I just try to focus on preparing for next year and having a good season next season.”
He said he is trying to improve on “everything a player should work on – effort, getting to the ball, just little things, technique – as every player should each year, just trying to get better and better.”
Hand said that his learning curve at Bama was helped by the likes of Robinson and Reed. “Technique,” he said. “Man, when I got out of high school, it was like one little step and the whole play can go by you. That was the biggest thing. Keeping your feet set and striking out first. Hips and hands and your feet will follow.
“In high school you could run and make a play because you were bigger and faster, but now everyone is bigger and faster. So it really comes down to technique.”
Hand, a five-star and the No. 3-ranked defensive end prospect in the nation, was not frustrated by the jump from high school to college. He said, “I feel like every football player, if you are a competitor, that will drive you, motivate you, to get better in your techniques so you can be effective in the game and start making plays, and producing in the system we have.”
He did say his eyes were quickly opened to the football upgrade. “The very first day,” he said. “The very first day it was like, ‘Wow, okay. This is college football. All right.”
Hand said that he gets help from his teammates and from his position coach, Bo Davis. “The good thing about is the whole D-line is a brotherhood, so everybody helps each other out and it’s been great.
“Coach Bo is amazing. He demands the best out of you every single day. I love that man.”
Hand said in his off-season meeting with Saban the head coach told him, “Just keep building. Don’t take a step back, keep moving forward, keep coming along and understand the playbook fully. Just keeping my motor up and get better with my technique.”
On Saturday Hand and his teammates will have the first scrimmage of spring practice.
He also said he remembered his first scrimmage at Alabama. But, he said, “I don’t want to talk about that one too much.”
Hand obviously looks forward to Satuday’s scrimmage. “A scrimmage is just like live ball,” he said. “That’s the closest thing to a game we’re gonna have until A-Day (April 16). So I’m excited because it’s been dang near what, two or three months since we last played, so I think everybody’s excited just to put the pads on and go live and hit somebody.”