Stuart McNair

Alabama defensive end hopes to showcase his athleticism as senior starter

Da’Shawn Hand had to wait his turn at Alabama and now it’s his time

Alabama is replacing half of its starters from the 2016 Crimson Tide defense, but it there is one spot that might be considered the most critical it is the defensive end position held last season by one of the most proficient players in Alabama history.
Jonathan Allen was a unanimous All-America, the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and winner of the Nagurski and Badnarik national defensive player of the year awards, the Hendricks Award as the nation’s best defensive end, and the Lombardi Trophy as best lineman on offense or defense.
Those are big shoes to fill.
It would be unrealistic to expect an Alabama defensive end to match Allen, particularly a first-year starter. What the Crimson Tide defense needs is a man who is solid at the position.
When college football observers say that Alabama replaces five-star players with five-star players it sometimes is an exaggeration, but the Crimson Tide does have a former five-star prospect ready to step up.
Da’Shawn Hand was a five-star prospect when he came out of Woodbridge, Va., High School, ranked the No. 3 defensive end in the nation by Scout.com. That was in 2013. In the subsequent three years, Hand found himself behind outstanding players, including Allen, A’Shawn Robinson, and Jarran Reed.
He was, nevertheless, a regular backup on defense and has played in 39 games as he prepares for his senior season.
Waiting his turn, he said, “was a humbling experience, but I’m glad I went though it. God has no mistakes in a man’s life, so I was just riding the wave. I just kept chopping at the wood, and now’s my time.”
In an age where patience seems sometimes to be in short supply among back-up football players, Hand said he never considered transferring. “Not at all,” he said. “It’s all a mindset. I’m a competitor, so I just like to compete. When it was my time to go, I just had to suit up and go. So, just like now, it’s my time to showcase what I can do as a starter, so that’s what I plan on doing.
“It’s a very important season for me, just because I have to showcase my athleticism. I’ve been waiting. I’ve been working. So, I’m just ready to showcase.”
It’s not as if the 6-4, 286-pound Hand hasn’t shown that athleticism when given the opportunity. He’s had seven career sacks among his 12 tackles for loss, 44 total tackles, seven quarterback pressures, and caused a fumble.
Hand says he has to do whatever it takes. “You never know what the offense is going to do,” he said. “You have to react and make a play. You just have to be a football player. That’s why I’m at The University of Alabama.”
And how hungry is he now? “To be honest, I don’t even know how to answer that question. That’s how hungry I am. It’s immeasurable.”
While Hand was playing behind the likes of Allen and Robinson, he was also learning. He said he picked up on “technique mainly. How to use your hands. Just the playbook. When I was a younger like freshman, getting into the playbook, working on footwork, things like that.”
Now, Hand said, he’s trying to improve on everything to be an every down defensive end. “Just being an all-around player, being an all-around, every down defensive lineman — being able to stop the run on first and second down, maybe a play-action pass, working on my pass rush just so I can be a dominant pass rusher on third downs in passing situations.
“I think it starts out with an attitude at first, how you attack things, the intensity and just having a mindset that you’re not going to be stopped, no matter who it is or who is in front of you. And then after that just the technique and everything.”
Hand works under veteran coach Karl Dunbar. “He’s a good coach,” Hand said. “He’s real big on footwork and technique. He’s a real big technician, and I like his energy.”
He also understands that as a senior he needs to be a leader. “Leadership is a key thing.,” Hand said. “It’s always a good thing, especially to me, that I can have a positive impact on another player while I’m getting better as well.”


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