On his 18th birthday, Da'Shawn Hand gave Alabama football coach Nick Saban a present.
Hand, a Woodbridge, Va., senior defensive end who has 80 tackles, 15 tackles and two blocked punts this season, said on Thursday he would sign with Alabama, choosing the Crimson Tide over Michigan and Florida. He made the announcement during a pep rally at his school.
Hand said he made his decision late Wednesday night, en route to a fast food meal, then called Saban, Michigan's Brady Hoke and Florida's Will Muschamp.
"It only takes five minutes to get to Wendy's from my house, but that was like a 20- or 30-minute ride," Hand said. "It was a long thought process. The difficult part was choosing. It was hard cutting off the other coaches. I've been talking to them for four years. It was like divorcing your wife of 20 years. You get so tight. After a while, you just have to be a man. They all had respect for my decision."
Hand is listed as the No. 5 player overall in 247Sports.com's composite rankings. He can't actually sign a national letter-of-intent until Feb. 5, but if he follows through on that commitment, it bolsters what is already considered the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
The Tide already has a commitment from West Monroe, La., offensive tackle Cam Robinson, who, like Hand, was on the American Family Insurance ALL-USA preseason team, along with four other Top 100 players: Spring Valley (Columbia, S.C.) linebacker Christian Miller; IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) running back Bo Scarbrough; North (Norman, Okla.) quarterback David Cornwell; and Camden County (Kingsland, Ga.) cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent.
"This just enhances Alabama's class," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "They already have the No. 1 class."
Hand, who is 6-4 and 248 pounds, won't have a lot of rest after the big announcement. Hand's family was planning a celebratory barbecue, which Hand put out an invite to on Twitter and Facebook.
"How about that?" said Nicole Graham, Hand's mother. "I need to get more food. We have plenty of food, but it's first-come, first-served."
On Friday, Woodbridge travels to Varina (Richmond) for a state 6A South region first-round playoff game.
"It's a bit of a circus, but at the same time, it's an exciting time for us," said Woodbridge coach Karibe Dede, who played and coached at Auburn before coming to Woodbridge this year. "This is a big day, Da'Shawn's birthday. I hope this gives us momentum and excitement, a little bit of fuel. I hope it carries over."
Hand's announcement brings good news to a school that has seen its share of recent tragedy. On Tuesday, a 15-year-old Woodbridge student was found dead about a mile from the school, killed by what Prince William County police said was a self-inflicted gun shot. In September, one of Hand's teammates, Kenny Diaz, was stabbed to death following what police said was a confrontation about a friend's drug deal gone bad.
"It's been such an up and down year for our kids emotionally," Dede said. "This is something that really provides a positive outlet. Emotionally, I think it's something that everybody has been looking forward to."
Hand's former coach at Woodbridge, Kevin Smith, who is coaching at Polytech (Woodside, Del.), drove down and sat a few seats away from Hand during the announcement.
"When he called me and asked me to come up, that was very nice," Smith said. "He doesn't forget you if you do right by him and I appreciate that."
Hand had a road map dealing with recruiting, thanks in part to an uncle, Damone Boone, who was a 1996 Parade All-American running back at Springfield, Va. He signed with Maryland but finished his career at Division II Carson-Newman. Hand got his first scholarship offer, from Boston College, as a freshman. Since then, he's had 93 other offers.
"I'm glad it's over with," said Hand's father, Sharif. "More importantly, I think any one of the schools would have been a great decision. … I'm still taking it in now. I'm definitely proud of him."