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May 21, 2013

Five-Star Challenge: Got his Hand full


MORE: Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge

Being Da'Shawn Hand comes with a certain level of fame. It also comes with nonstop phone calls from reporters and sales pitches from college coaches. It comes with fanfare. It comes with name recognition.

It also comes with a bull's-eye. And as the No. 1 prospect in America prepares to head for the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Chicago, everyone is taking aim. Months before a group of elite high school prospects gather at Soldier Field, the talk preceding the walk has started.

It got under way with a text from four-star guard Natrell Curtis, never one to back away from a challenge. He'd rather issue one of his own.

"I don't care what number (Hand) is," Curtis said via text the day Hand's registration was announced. "He ain't gonna look too good when he lines up against me."

Curtis isn't blowing smoke or using empty words. He dominated the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour stop in Phoenix and is one of the best offensive linemen in the country. So if anyone has reason to believe he can put it to Hand on the big stage, it is he. This is a realistic threat.

"Don't confuse me being confident with me being cocky," Curtis said. "I don't care what state he is from. I don't know who he's been playing against, but it's not me. I got a big mouth, but I can back it up."

Turns out, Curtis' words are not unique. Hand has seen similar things in newspapers. He's seen them on Twitter, where a tweet or so a week challenging his standing as the top player in the 2014 class crosses his timeline. He's aware a certain amount of that comes with the territory.

Hand isn't angry by any stretch, but he's not exactly bowing his head and staying quiet, either. That's the thing about gathering a group of top talent; things tend to get competitive in a hurry.

[ MORE: Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge roster ]

"Of course, I've seen all of it," Hand said of players publicly challenging him. "You don't let that stuff bother you. It's cool that they are gunning for you. It's cool that they take time and energy just to think about me. That says something."

It's not just Hand dealing with the onslaught of contenders.

Thirteen five-stars, including No. 3 overall prospect Leonard Fournette and No. 5 Lorenzo Carter, have already registered for the three-day event that starts June 7. Top wide receiver Allen Lazard will be in attendance, as will Kyle Allen, the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback; and Deshaun Watson, the nation's top dual-threat quarterback.

So what's drawing blue-chip prospects to the event? It's certainly not the free gear, and it's only partly the trip to Chicago. For the most part, it's each other.

"For me, it's just a love to compete," Allen said. "It's an unbelievable opportunity to be able to compete with all the best kids in America at such an awesome venue like Soldier Field. Such an amazing opportunity."

But what about Hand? The Woodbridge (Va.) Senior High School star doesn't have to prove he's the top player in the country. He holds the top spot.

In essence, he has nothing to gain by showing up and proving -- again -- that he's top dog. Presented with that question, Hand pauses.

Ten seconds pass before he lets out a few words that remind everyone of something easily forgotten in modern recruiting.

"I'm still a kid," Hand said. "It's basically just to have fun. People tell me I shouldn't be doing these things or whatever, but I'm still a kid that likes to have fun. I'm still a kid that likes getting the Under Armour stuff and having fun."

But all the "fun" tends to transfer into serious business when players like Hand step on the field with each other.



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