"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
For being arguably the top prospect in the country from the 2014 class, Da’Shawn Hand isn’t talked about a whole lot, and that’s exactly how he wants it. As Hand prepares for his senior season at Woodbridge Senior High School in Virginia, he has managed to lay low this summer despite being one of the most coveted prospects in the nation. I was lucky enough to catch up with Da’Shawn to ask him about his summer, visit plans, and timetable among other things.
So how has your summer been going? What camps have you attended and how do you think you performed at those camps?
I went to two camps this summer, I went to The Opening and the Rivals 5-Star Challenge in Chicago. I think I did pretty well man, it was a lot of fun. I went for the gear, for the experience, and just to meet a lot of people and make some good connections for a lifetime.
I read somewhere that you didn’t even lose a rep for a few days at the Rivals challenge?
Yeah, I didn’t! That was at the Rivals camp and I was ballin! (Laughs) When I went to The Opening, at first it was really cool, but I got a little camped-out and by the end of it I was definitely ready to just focus on my season.
With football being such a huge part of your life year-round, how has your summer been as far as non-related football activities goes?
It’s been good man, just been chillin’ with family, seeing my family, hanging out with my friends, and just traveling. Oh, and I’ve been…even though it has to do with football a little bit, I’ve been helping out and coaching kids in little kid camps.
When do you start practice for your senior year and what have you done to prepare yourself for a senior season that is going to be very closely watched by a lot of people?
We start practicing August 1st. You know it’s always possible to get better. I’ve been training like a dog. I’ve been doing cross-fit training, I’ve been doing yoga. I do a lot of running in a gas-mask, I’ve just been doing a lot of things to improve in as many areas as I can.
I talked with your coach about how you decided to lay low a little bit with the recruiting aspect and just focus on getting ready for your season. How come?
Yeah, and honestly I think that was the smartest decision I’ve made with my recruitment. I just wanted to lay low. I haven’t really talked to any coaches or anything, maybe once in a while I’ll call them but I have really been focusing on myself and just working.
With all the work you’ve put in what are your goals for your last year in high school, team-wise and individually?
Well of course team-wise I just want to get to the state championship and win it, I want a ring. I want to go out on top. My individual goals are, I want have over 100 tackles, 40 or more tackles for loss and 30 sacks.
Pretty lofty, you think you can get there?
You mentioned your recruitment a little bit but that you did take it off this summer, but how has that been going? Same top 3? Other coaches still hounding you? Just give me an insight as to how it goes for you.
Yeah my top 3 is still the same, Alabama, Florida, and Michigan. Other coaches still try to recruit me for sure, but I really don’t know about it. Me and Coach Harris, we have a system. When I was younger I would talk to all the college coaches as much as possible you know? I told a lot of coaches that I was interested and found out their interest and started to get offers. Then after that we started doing our research. Then after the research was done, he wouldn’t tell me to cut off any schools or anything, he would just say to start chopping my list down, take my time, give me advice. It was fun during my sophomore year, I got like 50 offers or something, it was crazy. The summer leading up to my junior year, that’s when it got like really hectic and it’s been pretty hectic ever since. That’s why I cut it down to three, it’s gotten easier and easier.
How much do you pay attention to the stuff that’s written about you? With all the articles, blogs, Twitter, rankings, videos, etc…how much do you pay attention to it and what is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen about yourself?
Honestly this year, I don’t really care about all of that stuff. When I was younger, like during my freshman and sophomore year it was really cool being told I was the #1 player in the nation and all that, but then during my junior year I really stopped paying attention to it because I mean everyone is good. I mean the top 100 kids in the nation are all top-notch athletes, I really don’t see a need to rank them and they are all going to play in college. As far as untrue stuff, all the time! (Laughs) I don’t really say anything about it, I just let them do them. That’s how they make their paycheck I guess, I don’t really care. One time when I went on a visit someone wrote that the school was now my top school and that they had nothing to worry about, that I was locked. I was like, I never said that? That doesn’t even sound like me. So yeah, there are always things about me that just aren’t true.
What have the Michigan coaches told you about a specific position? Have they discussed where and how they’d like to use you on defense?
Michigan has told me that they want me at end. That’s all, they didn’t really say what side. They like to mix it around and use different combinations. Alabama said they want me to be a JACK kind of like Courtney Upshaw was. Florida was like Michigan, they want me to play just the end since they’d like to mix it up a lot.
I remember watching a video interview you did where you seemed to get really excited about a certain professor at Michigan. Tell me what was so different, unique, or special about that professor to get a reaction like that from you.
That dude was amazing! (Laughs) Goodness, gracious! He just blew us away. I can’t pronounce his last name, (laughs) he has like a long last name, but he just….oh my goodness! Just the way he presented everything was amazing. He talked about what we’re going to learn, he told us that it’s not going to be easy. It even made my dad want to go back to school again, it was just wild, it was insane.
So as your season begins and fall is getting close, what are your plans for your official visits?
Right now I know for sure I’ll visit my top 3 schools but other than that I don’t really know.
Your official visit for Michigan is against Notre Dame for the Under the Lights II game. What are your expectations for the game itself?
I have never been to a game at Michigan so I just want to see how the crowd is, the whole atmosphere, how it feels on a gameday, what does the town do, you know those little things. I also want to see how the coaches face adversity.
So you’ve got your top 3, you have a basic idea about your official visits. What are going to be the deciding factors when you finally decide to commit?
Just my personal evaluation I guess, that’s all I can really tell you. There are so many things that I think about and I just keep that personal you know?
It’s been made public that you have a bit of a relationship with Jabrill Peppers, is that at all something that might factor in to your decision?
Oh, that’s my man! He’s cool, he’s cool people.
How about your decision timeline? Do you have an idea when you are going to commit?
Nothing has really changed. Whenever I feel like the time is right I am going to commit. I want to do it before December but whenever it feels right, it’s right.
Commitments these days can get pretty crazy. How do you plan on doing it? You seem pretty humble and don’t necessarily need the limelight, so how’s it going to go down?
I’m going to be at my school, in the auditorium or in the gym or wherever it needs to be. I’m just going to do it the classic way. I’m not going to have the three hats, I’m just going to have one hat and announce it, and that’s about it.
Talking with Da’Shawn was a pleasure and he’s another testament to the types of kids that Coach Hoke and staff are trying to recruit. Not only is he immensely talented but he genuinely cares about his education and was a really pleasant kid to talk to. He didn’t really dodge any questions which is refreshing, but he didn’t take the Jabrill question completely head-on. He perked up about him when I asked, but he didn’t mention at all if playing with Jabrill would factor into his decision. One thing I did notice, and I don’t know if it was a Freudian Slip or if it was nothing, but he spoke about the professor at Michigan as if he has already decided that he will be his teacher. The fact that a non-football related experience has made that much of an impact on him has got to be a great thing. I expect his official visit against Notre Dame to make a big impact on him and honestly wouldn’t be shocked if he thought about committing while in Ann Arbor for his first game at The Big House among that atmosphere and many other recruits and commits.
[In part 1, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges describes a typical game week and talks about the process of game preparation. In part 2, Borges talks about game day, calling plays, the infamous Ohio State game, and bubble screens. There is no part 3. =( ]
Okay it’s game day. I’m guessing the first thing you do is meet with all the coaches.
“Yeah. What we do is we’ll -- we don’t actually meet. We’ve already got that pretty much out of our system, although I’ve been at places where we did. I’ve been at places where the head coach wanted to meet on game day and talk about everything. But we’ve already hashed all that out. There’s no reason to bother with that at that point.
“But you know, we get up and have a little walk-through usually down at the church -- by the church across the street from the Campus Inn.”
I think I’ve seen you guys.
“Yeah. We’ll have a little walk-through, which is great. It gets the guys thinking about football. We started doing that about the middle of our first year. And then there’s a pre-game [meeting], depending on when the game is.
“Something that’s worthy of mention is that we go through a call-sheet rehearsal with all the interns and everybody that puts that together. You have to understand that I’m a bit of a technological moron. I don’t do --
[Borges gestures to his computer]
“-- All this stuff. I’m too old. I’m not real computer savvy and all that. I mean I can open a computer and find stuff for the most part if you want anything … I let the GAs kind of do that. But what we do is we go through sometimes as many as two or three games with those guys, and one with the quarterbacks where we’ll put a game on, and I’ll call the game practicing off -- say we’re playing Notre Dame and Notre Dame played USC. I’ll put the USC game on, put my call sheet in front of me, and whatever SC did, if they gained three yards [to get to] a second and seven, I will practice the call in that area that I would call in that situation. And maybe Notre Dame played Purdue, SC, and whoever. With those three games I’ll go through a whole call sheet of three games just practicing calling the plays. And we’ll do that on Friday so that, just like the players, I’ve rehearsed what I’m going to call and what I’m going to do. That Friday the quarterbacks will come in and I’ll do it with the quarterbacks.”
[Finally: A one-on-one chat with Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges that has been eight months in the making. In part 1, Borges describes a typical game week, talks about game planning, and shows me what his call sheet looks like.]
“Heiko, what’s up?”
Not much, how are you?
“Just wonderful. How are you?”
Good. It’s good to see you.
How’s the offseason?
“What offseason? I’m not seeing it.”
Oh yeah, you have recruiting stuff.
“It’s always the onseason.”
“What are you shaking your head about? Don’t start this like that. I want positive karma out of you. Hi. How you guys doin’? Heiko, what’s happenin?”
MGo: Not much.
“Always good to see you.”
MGo: It’s good to see you, too.
“You didn’t mean that.”
MGo: I’m really sad that you didn’t run any pistol formations.
“We don’t have any pistol formations. How could we run it? But if you’d like us to put them in we’ll be happy to do so just to make you happy.”
MGo: That would be great.
“Because my life revolves around your happiness if you haven’t figured that out by now.”
The first play from scrimmage was a 30-yard pass down the sideline to Amara Darboh. Was that to show people that they don’t need to worry about the wide receivers?
“Heh. No. That wasn’t what I was thinking. No, we were just thinking -- it’s always a good idea every so often in coming out on offense to try and take a ball deep. Our defense isn’t necessarily like this, but a lot of defenses will get a little reckless, you know? They’ll try and create a safety or whatever. A deep ball sometimes is a pretty good deal so we just decided at least once we were going to try and do that. That’s the reason for it.”
“You guys get me McGary yet?”
Isn’t that your job?
“Heh, no. I’m done with recruiting.”
How consistent was your four-man rush this spring and what’s the potential?
“Well we worked very very hard on it. We made a definite [goal]: ‘We’re going to do that.’ We worked hard all spring on it. The thing about pass rush that makes it something that you can achieve is that’s a phase of football you can work on all summer. That’s something like catching passes, like throwing passes. You can’t go out and hit a guy one on one, you can’t do all that in a summer, but you can improve pass rush technique better than anything else. And with our belief of that being important and our kids believing that, I think that’s something we’ll just continue. They did show some signs in there, but they also showed why you have to be a technician when you do it, and everybody’s got to be on the same page. We’re kind of in the growing stages of it, but we’re growing in the right direction.”
- Blake Countess and Fitz Toussaint should be back for the season opener.
- Jake Ryan could be available as early as mid-October.
- Devin Funchess got dinged up during the game but should be fine.
My nice camera is broken, so here is a high-res iPhone shot. Note the bling.
“I think we got 65, 66 plays in, which is about where we wanted to be. We got some situational work that I wanted to get done. We need to really get a lot of the young guys up front on both sides of the ball. We want to continue to improve some of the fundamentals on both sides of the ball. Running the football is one of them, and playing the run and getting off blocks -- we have to do a little bit of that. We got to do a little bit of red zone. That’s one area that we need to continue to work on on both sides of the ball. The guys went out there, it’s the first day we’ve been outside, which is unusual. But we got done what we wanted to get done.”
That was the first time you practiced outside all spring?
Talk about Devin’s first long completion, and some of the passes he threw today in this weather?
“Well, Devin naturally throws a tight ball. When you throw a tight ball, and he’s got good arm strength -- he has good velocity on it. He can cut through the wind pretty well. He’s always thrown a long ball pretty well. He had a pretty good day.”
Talk about Jack Miller at center and Chris Wormley’s return?
“You know, I think Jack has really -- there’s great competition, him and Graham Glasgow at the center position. I think Jack has really grown as a player. Again, so much of this is about the fact that he’s made some real strides in his accountability and about being the bell cow when you look at the offensive line. Chris was a little tentative early in the spring, but I think he’s had a good spring. His recovery, confidence and those things [are good].”
“I think the young guys and Jeremy Jackson -- I think Jeremy’s really having his best spring. You look at Jehu [Chesson] and Amara [Darboh], I think both those guys have really come a long way. They both are very talented and do a lot of different things. Joe Reynolds. I think Joe keeps pushing everybody. Joe’s a guy that’s played a lot of positions, and that’s real positive.”
What about Graham Glasgow makes him able to rotate through all three positions?
“Smart, number one. Very intellient. He’s tough, which you need to be, physically and mentally. He has a real passion for the game.”
Talk about your pass rush -- looked like Taco got to the quarterback a couple times and actually hit him …
Was that something that you saw consistently throughout the spring?
“Well I think we’ve grown. I think we’ve got some young kids who have some ability. With Greg and his passion with how he teaches rushing the passer, the work that’s been put in … and the guys are excited about it. They know what we want to do. We’ve worked on it. We’re not near what we can be and will be, but I think we’re a little better at it.”
Thoughts on Blake Countess’s spring and the secondary in general?
“Well, Blake, he’s healthy. Kept him out of contact. Same with Fitz [Toussaint]. I think that’s just the best way to go about it. They both played a number of snaps. The secondary, the competition level at a core position -- you want it there. You can say the same thing about the safeties. Jeremy Clark is a guy who’s a pretty good player. Marvin [Robinson] has shown great glimpses through his career here. Thomas is having a real solid, real good spring. He’s been very much the leader. And then Jarrod played quite a bit a year ago, but he’s come along.”
What was your evaluation of the backup quarterbacks today?
“I think with Brian [Cleary] and [Alex] Swieca, it was good to give them snaps with people here. People in the stadium, playing in this stadium. Both of them handled themselves well. We put the ball on the ground on a snap, which we can’t afford to do. Whose fault was it, I’m not sure. But we need to do a better job with that. As far as the growth that they both have made, it’s been positive.”
James Ross was in the middle of a lot of plays today. Have you been seeing that from him all spring?
“Yeah James has had a pretty good spring. He’s a good football player. Very instinctive. He’s got a burst, movement to the football. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s not afraid to take on blocks.”
Are Ross’s instincts unorthodox similar to Jake Ryan?
“No. No he’s not unorthodox. He’s going to be a little more of a technician, but it’s still football instincts.”
What are your thoughts on the transtion to pro-style offense?
“I think it’s gone very well. I think I’d be shocked if we didn’t show a whole lot of anything today as far as scheme and all those things. That’s what we’ve run before we came here. We still have elements -- you can still tell from the play-action game standpoint how comfortable Devin is and how good he can be.”
Offensive line was up and down today. How big of a focus is improving the interior line going to be moving forward?
“Look, we’re going to focus on all of it, what we do from here on as a team and what they do together, the seniors and all that. Objectively there were some good plays offensively and there were some good plays defensively.”
How likely is it that you bring in a JUCO transfer at quarterback?
“I -- I don’t know. It could happen. It couldn’t happen.”
Looked like something happened to Funchess …
“He’ll be all right.”
Any update on Hagerup’s status?
What would you need to see from a JUCO transfer in order to take him?
“He’d better be pretty good. That’d be the first and what would fit what we want to do with the scheme and what we want in a quarterback. ”
Talk about Fitz’s progress? Other running backs?
“Fitz, he’s made really good strides. He probably could have done a little more, but I think his progress is pretty good. I think Thomas [Rawls] made a nice run in there today, had a really nice cut. [Dennis] Norfleet made a guy miss in the hole. I think Drake [Johnson] ran hard, and Justice [Hayes] protected well a couple times there, but we’re a work in progress. Has there been any separation? I don’t think so yet. We’ll go through some of it in the fall.”
What kind of clarity did today provide as fars as your No. 2 quarterback?
“Well I think Brian is [No. 2].”
Is that your ’97 championship ring there?
Any significance to bringing that out today?
“Uh, I usually don’t wear it, so … just had it on.”
Just felt like putting it on today?
“Yeah. Went with my … shoes.”
Would you expect Fitz and Blake to be back for the opener?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt.”
What is the likely timetable for Jake Ryan?
“You know, I’m not a doctor. But. Possibly middle of October. Some people react differently.”
Impact of Taylor Lewan on offensive line?
“Taylor’s done a great job with those guys. That’s one reason why he wanted to come back. Physicalness that they need to play with, targeting, all those things that go with that. He’s taken that really personally. I think the group of them, and the competition will really -- it’s been great. They’ll be impactful.”
How much of a strength will the tight end position be, and what kind of role will Jake Butt have?
“Well I think Jake being here has made it a stronger position. He’s a guy who can catch the ball in space, run well, but he’s also a guy that blocks well at the line of scrimmage for a guy who’s been here since January. We’re excited about what he brings added to the guys we have here.”