When Da’Shawn Hand gives you a handshake, you get an inkling of what opposing quarterbacks feel seeing the Woodbridge, Va., defensive end shed a blocker. You realize there’s no easy escape and in a few seconds, you’re likely to feel some pain.
Only a junior, the 6-4, 245-pound Hand had 84 tackles and 21 sacks last season. He is considered the top player in his class by 247sports.com and has more than 30 scholarship offers.
Though confident, Hand doesn’t act like a can’t-miss prospect, because he knows there’s no such thing.
“I never think like that,” Hand said. “That never goes to my mind. If that goes to your mind, you get comfortable. If you get comfortable, you start slacking off. So, I try to think like I don’t have any offers at all.”
Hand’s humility has its roots in the experience of his uncle, Damone Boone.
A 1996 Parade All-American running back from West Springfield High in Springfield, Va., Boone set state records his senior year, including one that still stands — a 500-yard rushing game against Annandale. He signed with Maryland but because of a variety of factors, including injuries, family issues and a difficult time adapting to new coaches, Boone never clicked with the Terrapins. He left the school the spring of his sophomore year in 1998 after only nine carries for 57 yards.
Three years later, Boone was working odd jobs when his former high school coach, Frank Creneti, told him of an opportunity at Division II Carson-Newman in Jefferson City, Tenn. Boone went back to school and was named first-team all-South Atlantic Conference in 2002.
“We try to keep Da’Shawn humble and tell him it can all end tomorrow,” Boone said. “Shawn is smarter than I was about football. He loves the game. He does extra studying and helps the coaches. You need to learn every position on the field, not just your own. My brother (Da’Shawn’s father, Sharif) and I have tried to tell he and my son (Marcus, who plays running back, linebacker and safety for Woodbridge) how things really are. School is more important than football.”
Hand, a standout wrestler in middle school, wanted to be a receiver like his father when he began football at Woodbridge.
“They didn’t know what to do with me, so they said, ‘You’re kind of big. Why don’t we put you at defensive line?’ At practice, I got my first hit and I was, ‘Man, I love this position.’ Now, I’m a hitter and I don’t want to get hit.”
Hand got by as a freshman on raw talent but has since worked on his footwork and body control.
After last season, Hand was invited to the Army All-American underclassmen combine in January and was one of only three rising juniors at Nike’s The Opening last month in Oregon.
“At my first combine, there was (an offensive lineman) who was 6-8 and weighed about 315 — I think he was from Canada,” Hand said. “He was like a big old Ben Roethlisberger. I was thinking I didn’t know if I would beat this guy. Once the whistle blew, I made a couple of moves and got past him. I’m real fond of getting to wherever I have to go as fast as possible.”
Woodbridge coach Kevin Smith said Hand is showing he’s a team player by playing offensive line and defensive line this season.
“You’re not going to get a whole lot of me-me-me out of Da’Shawn. I’m hoping he can play 100% of the time,” Smith said. “If he needs (to rest), I’ll give it to him on offense.”