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March 15, 2013

Weekly Recruiting Wrap: Gaining the upper Hand

The Wolverine is starting to run out of "Hand" puns, so fortunately the long-awaited Ann Arbor visit by Rivals.com No. 1 overall prospect Da'Shawn Hand comes this weekend. At the end of his school day at Woodbridge (Va.) High School, Hand will begin the eight-hour drive to Ann Arbor.

Michigan is already in the 6-5, 245-pounder's top-5 schools list, despite his never being on the U-M campus until later tonight. What do the Wolverines need to do in order to vault their way up that list - potentially to the top?

1. Hit the books
Hand has perfect attendance in class as a high schooler (he won't leave for Ann Arbor until after school this afternoon to preserve that record), so it's clear he takes his academics very seriously. He's an excellent student, and the type of high school player whose emphasis on the learning portion of the college experience is legitimate.

That's the area where Michigan holds a distinct advantage over the rest of his schools (except North Carolina, which is one position behind Michigan in the latest US News and World Report rankings), and U-M will try to emphasize it this weekend. Not only can he receive some of the best coaching in the country, but also one of the best educations from a BCS football program.

Hand doesn't know what he'd like to major in - he's on the fence between business and engineering - so, according to Woodbridge assistant coach John Harris, the U-M coaching and academic support staffs will give him all the information he needs to know about participating in either U-M's College of Engineering (No. 7 nationally) or Ross School of Business (No. 4 nationally). Whichever he chooses, the task is to show him how he'd be able to succeed in that program.

2. Coach 'em up
Hand is a film junkie, a drill junkie, and a prospect who truly values his personal improvement as a player above pretty much anything else on the football field. When he gets to the next level, he wants to know that he'll have coaches who can improve his game, and help him reach his potential.

Michigan fans who have followed the improvement by U-M's defensive linemen in the two years Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison have been in town - or listened to a single comment about that pair when it comes to the D-line - know that this won't be an issue.

Hand will be keeping a close eye on Mattison, the coach with whom he's built the best relationship and who would be his position coach, and Hoke, who also coaches on the defensive line by taking over the nose tackles. Even new coach Roy Manning will be evaluated, since he's not only Hand's new regional recruiter, but also a coach of the outside linebackers, who often have pass-rush responsibilities (and Hand could see some time at that spot should he choose Michigan).

3. Build the comfort
As is always the case in recruiting, making sure prospects feel comfortable with the coaching staff, the campus, and even the players on the team is one of the biggest hurdles to climb. Hand has already stated that Greg Mattison is one of his favorite coaches in the nation, so the other two factors are important.

According to Harris, redshirt sophomore Blake Countess will host Hand this weekend. The two certainly share one major connection: hailing from the Washington, D.C. area (the "DMV"). Countess can describe to Hand what compelled a highly ranked player to leave his home on the East Coast for Ann Arbor. 2014 U-M commit Michael Ferns will also be in town to help Hand feel like a member of Team 135 already - and even show off the t-shirt that comes with pledging to the Wolverines.

Ann Arbor itself will also be on display this weekend. The city, according to most, speaks for itself. The U-M coaches will do some speaking of their own when he gets to tour campus, of course. It will be about ten degrees colder than Hand's home in Northern Virginia, so the weather may have a bit of an impact, if that's something he's interested in. Lastly, Hand has family in Southeastern Michigan. Hand's father, Sharif, will head up from Woodbridge and plans to meet up with some relatives, and they can help Da'Shawn grow comfortable with the area.

Other visitors

Hand won't be the only recruit in town, just the highest-rated. Key prospects like Cleveland (Ohio) St. Ignatius linebacker Kyler Berger and Grand Rapids (Mich.) Christian offensive lineman Tommy Doles will also have a chance to take in campus.

Both of those players have experienced Ann Arbor in the past, so first impressions won't be made. Still, the U-M coaches can continue to help them see why they would be valuable additions to the Wolverines' program.

For more from Coach Harris, please see yesterday's story. Stay tuned all weekend for updates from some of the prospects in attendance.

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