Hand Looking Forward to Irish Future

Approximately three and half years ago, West Philadelphia Catholic high school football coach Brain Fluck initiated a conversation with a 6-4 freshman student with the goal of getting the student to try out for football. The student had never played football before, but with coach Fluck's persuasion, that would soon change.

The student was Derrell Hand, and after making the team that fall, and being part of numerous excruciating practices and intense football games, Hand is set to begin the next chapter of his life as a football player at the University of Notre Dame.

"He was big kid when he came in to high school," said coach Fluck of Hand. "We had to kind of talked him into coming out for football, but once he came out we could tell he had a lot of raw talent. We knew that if we kept with him he could develop his talent, and that's what he did."

Derrell's talents developed greatly under the direction of coach Fluck and his staff. Michigan State and Wisconsin offered him a football scholarship and soon Notre Dame followed suit. Prior to visiting Notre Dame, he visited both Michigan State and Wisconsin. Hand enjoyed both visits, but Notre Dame's academics were unmatched. Additionally, current Notre Dame defensive end Victor Abiamiri, who hosted Hand on his visit to South Bend, made a good impression.

"The visit to Notre Dame was different from the other schools I visited," Hand said. "Some of the other schools I had a lot better time at, but I couldn't beat the academics at Notre Dame.

"Victor hosted me on my visit. He's a really cool guy. I can see him teaching me the ropes and all the little tricks and stuff like that when I get up there."

Like many 2005 signees, Hand chose Notre Dame not just because of the academics, but because of coach Weis and his staff. Hand's future position coach, coach Jappy Oliver, and defensive coordinator coach Minter all played in to his decision. Each, along with Hand's internal desire to challenge himself, fueled his decision to become one of the fifteen athletes that signed a letter of intent to play football at Notre Dame.

"The academics were the number one thing," Hand said in reference he signed with Notre Dame. "Then I would say I wanted to challenge myself by being a part of a team that gets Notre Dame back on top, like the USCs. Lastly, I would say the coaching staff made me feel like I was important, like I was an important part of getting Notre Dame back on top.

"Coach Jappy also recruited me. He recruited me the most, and I would also say coach Minter recruited me as well. Coach Jappy is a great guy and a great coach. I can really see myself getting along with him without any controversy."

There is no controversy about what Hand did on the football field this past season. While only recording five sacks, Hand recorded 85 tackles and used his aggressive football nature to neutralize each opponent's ground game and screen-pass attempts.

"He's a very aggressive player on the field," said coach Fluck in reference to Hand's strengths, "He really only learned the game in four years and really blossomed during that time. He attacks the football on defense, and on the offensive side he has great feet and was very dominating run blocker at the tight end position.

"He takes on blocks really well. We really didn't use him to rush the passer because we had some pretty good d-ends, so we didn't count on him for that. We counted on him to take care of the screens for us."

Hand also feels that stuffing the run is his strength and sees himself playing defensive line at Notre Dame. He is also aware of his weaknesses and what he needs to do to continue to get better.

"Defensive tackle is what I play, and I'm really anxious to see where I fit in at defensive tackle at Notre Dame," he said. "I'm really looking forward to playing, and I wouldn't mind playing some offense, too.

"Stuffing the run is my biggest strength. I also really have a nose for the ball, have an excellent first step, and am good at avoiding blockers. I would say my weakness is passing rushing. That's my biggest weakness. I also need to get a lot stronger and get in the weight room."

Hand's athletic ability also crosses over into basketball where Hand is a member of his school's varsity basketball team. The rigors of both the practices and games currently prevent him from getting into the weight room, where his coach advises him to be.

"I keep telling him he needs to dedicate himself to weight room after playing sports," coach Fluck said. "He's playing basketball right now, but in about a month, when it's over, he needs to get in the weight room at least five or six days a week. He also has to continue to work hard, get bigger and stronger, and do some plyometrics and running. This way he has a head start on what they'll be doing in college.

"Derrell is kind of bottom heavy, meaning most of his weight and strength is in his legs, so I've talked to him about getting stronger and bigger up top. In high school he had no problem getting off the ball quicker, but he'll need to improve that in college. He needs to keep working on it."

Getting into the weight room after basketball will be tough for Hand because he may be selected to play in Pennsylvania's "Big 33" game. If selected, Hand plans to use the opportunity to not only showcase his athletic skills, but to see how he holds up against future DI offensive lineman.

"I'm playing basketball for my school right now, but after it's over I plan on getting in the weight room with the other DI players from my school," Hand said. "Our league really wasn't that strong this year, so I'm anxious to see how I compare to DI offensive tackles, particularly in the Big 33 game. Hopefully, I'll be selected to the Big 33 game. I should be hearing from them in March."

Whatever Hand does in the near future, whether it's playing in the prestigious Big 33 game or lifting weights, he understands that playing football at Notre Dame will be demanding. But like many incoming freshman, Hand is looking forward to the opportunity and is willing to help the team in any way possible.

"It's going to be rough at first with practice and earning the trust of all the other players, but I'm going to go out there and try to make other players better," said Hand. Hopefully, I become a leader"

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