The top college football recruit in the country made his decision Thursday, and he did not select Michigan.
Da’Shawn Hand, a five-star defensive end from Woodbridge, Va., committed to Alabama in a ceremony broadcast on national television. He selected the defending BCS champions over the Wolverines and Florida.
Many analysts expected Hand to select Michigan. But one thing set Alabama apart.
“Why not go where there’s a great possibility that you can win a national championship?” Hand said during his announcement, aired live on NBC Sports Network.
Hand, a 6-foot-5, 262-pound senior defensive end, is ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the country by Rivals.com. If he had committed to Michigan, it would have been regarded as a coup of sorts, given Michigan’s recent struggles on the field. The Wolverines have lost three of their last four games entering Saturday’s Big Ten game at Northwestern and are part of a 12-team conference that’s lost some of its sparkle as of late.
Hand’s decision to commit to Alabama doesn’t hurt the overall brand of Michigan, known in recruiting circles as a program that consistently produces NFL-caliber players. Michigan has fielded top-10 recruiting classes in Brady Hoke’s first two seasons as head coach.
But losing Hand to the nation’s top program may force Michigan to work harder to make inroads in the mid-Atlantic region, which will soon become Big Ten territory with Maryland and Rutgers of New Jersey joining the conference next year.
“Getting a kid from Virginia, it’s become a hotbed there,” said Brandon Huffman, a national analyst for recruiting Web site Scout.com. “If anything, Hand’s commitment might put a damper on Michigan’s pursuit of some guys in that region. They may have to limit their resources a little bit in the regions where they’ve struck out.”
Michigan’s strongest recruiting regions, Huffman said, are in the Midwest and on the West Coast, and he doesn’t see Michigan completely backing away from Virginia. Yet, he added, getting a commitment from Hand would have boosted Michigan’s profile in the region.
“It would have had a domino effect in the region, and it might have attracted other guys,” Huffman said. “It’s not as much what Hand would have done for this class but for future classes in the mid-Atlantic, for those players seeing a great, elite player from their backyard going that route.”
Michigan already has a commitment from Jabrill Peppers, a cornerback at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic and another 2014 recruit ranked among the top five players nationally by recruiting services. Not coincidentally, Peppers made a video plea to Hand earlier this week to join next season’s incoming freshman class at Michigan.
“It would have been huge to get two guys from regions you don’t use as a lifeline,” Huffman said. “The prestige of getting an elite cornerback and a pass rusher, if any college coach can get one, he’s happy. But to get both of them, not just from a football standpoint but from a [public relations] standpoint, it’s huge.”
Scout.com reported Hand had scholarship offers from 94 programs, and he narrowed it down to three, including the Wolverines.
“You’ve got to think about athletics, academics, can I live there, the environment, the people, the coaching staff, the longevity of the coaching staff,” said Hand, who had 16 sacks and 110 tackles in his junior season at Woodbridge. “After that, you’ve got to go with your gut.”
“It was hard, but I think I made the right decision. ... Roll Tide.”