Dallas JacksonClick MORE: Complete Five-Star Challenge coverageHere to view this Link. is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.comClick MORE: Complete Five-Star Challenge coverageHere to view this Link. and follow him on TwitterClick MORE: Complete Five-Star Challenge coverageHere to view this Link..
It is on a field full of competitors who want to win a rep against him where Da'Shawn Hand feels most at ease.
Tabbed as the No. 1 high school football recruit in the country, Hand recently competed in the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour. With 12 of the 18 highest-ranked players alongside him, he maintained his lofty perch.
Competing helps him find normalcy; for the 6-foot-4, 260 pound player, there is a sense of relief in being held and punched in the chest by the best of the best.
"It's hard, man," Hand said. "Everywhere you go, people ask you what school you want to go to and they don't really look at you as a normal person anymore. That's the hardest thing. I just want to be regular. Just Da'Shawn Hand from Philly."
Hand didn't let anyone better him at the invitation-only camp in Chicago, and his performance added distance between him and the field.
He said the event was not a proving ground for anyone other than himself and that it was good to be out on Soldier Field playing and not having to answer a litany of questions.
"I like competition," Hand said. "Combines and stuff are fun for me. It keeps me sane. It is like going in the backyard with your friends and playing football."
Most of the insanity that Hand tries to block involves the circus that follows his recruitment.
After naming Alabama, Florida and Michigan as his final three college choices -- a move that eliminated Virginia Tech and South Carolina and hinted that LSU and USC may move up -- Hand could call and talk to some of those same players who rank below him.
"With friends at home, most of them don't have the offers and stuff, but if they ask me and I keep going on about it, it's like, 'Oh, who are you?' " Hand said. "But (at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge) everyone has (offers).
"Someone has 90 offers and someone else has 91, then it is like, 'Oh, that's cool,' so talking about school and stuff is cool."
He has become good friends with fellow top prospects Andrew Brown of Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith and Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes lineman Derrick Nnadi.
"When we get together, it keeps our sanity to not talk about (recruiting)," Hand said. "Everybody's tired of it. We're all tired of getting bombarded with questions and stuff, so when we get together it's kind of like, 'All right, man, let's not worry about football; let's worry about our lives.' "
Hand tries to remain a regular teenager.
He said he likes to hang out with friends and go on dates -- when he isn't working out. Both experiences highlight how far from the regular world of a high school athlete Hand is.
"I was at the movies (on a date) and we were about to get popcorn and this family comes up to me and the guy was like, 'Oh, my God, you need to go to Virginia Tech,' " Hand said. "I am just like, 'Oh, my goodness,' and then I have to take pictures with him and his family."
His workout is just as irregular.
Woodbridge is 75 feet above sea level, but Hand competes at his gym with a pressurized mask that allows him to simulate 6,000 feet above sea level. He runs with elastic resistance bands on his ankles, and he has three trainers attempt to hold him back with bands while he accelerates.
"I just love the feel of the burn -- when I can't go anymore," Hand said. "Once you reach that point, it is like, 'Man, I really worked today,' and then you have to do it all over again the next day."
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said, in his nearly two decades of covering recruiting, Hand is one of the best at mixing business with pleasure.
"Da'Shawn is an outgoing kid and he genuinely likes people, but he is also an elite football player," Farrell said. "His personality is such that he will absolutely talk to anyone, and I think that is because he has good people around him. His father is a positive influence, and his position coach, John Harris, is around a lot of the time. Both of those guys are good people and set good examples."
Harris said that part of the relationship he maintains with Hand is the understanding that they do not talk about recruiting.
"I don't ask, and I don't let him tell me," Harris said. "He will say, 'Coach, don't you want to know?' but I really don't. I will be happy for him wherever he picks, but I don't want to know.
"He is a great kid, and I just tell him to take his time and make the best choice for him and not for anyone else."
Harris has been with Hand at almost every national event, and he is helping him hone his craft.
He said it is hard to coach a player with Hand's talent.
"I have never had a chance to do it," Harris said. "He really is special, and it has made me a better coach to work with him."
Farrell said Hand's drive to compete is something he has not seen from a top prospect since Terrelle Pryor was the No. 1 player in the class of 2008.
"Da'Shawn wants to prove himself and challenge himself," Farrell said. "He is a kid who wants to know if he truly is the best or if it is just people saying that he is.
"It has been awhile since we named someone the top player in the country and then have been able to evaluate him in the summer. Robert Nkemdiche (the No. 1 player in 2013) wouldn't leave his house for anything, even when we did an event literally down the road from him. Dorial Green-Beckham didn't compete once he was named to the top spot the year before, and Jadeveon Clowney didn't, either. It is refreshing that Da'Shawn is out there to see what he still needs to work on."
Farrell thinks that what Hand needs to work on is what makes him an enjoyable prospect to interact with.
"I don't know if Da'Shawn is mean enough," Farrell said. "He works so hard and is so talented, but I haven't seen him flip a switch and get nasty.
"That is probably the most worrisome thing about him moving forward is that he is more like a regular high school athlete with how he interacts than someone with a killer instinct."
Hand is OK with that being his downside.
"I'm an outgoing person," he said. "I love to meet new people, so I am easy to get along with."
As regular as that sounds, his goals still ring clear.
"I want to win every rep," he said. "And dominate."
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