Rivals.com released its 2014 Top 100 prospects on Monday, and a defensive end is No. 1 for the third time in four seasons. Hand is not a consensus overall No. 1 like his predecessors, Jadeveon Clowney and Robert Nkemdiche — he tops both Rivals and 247Sports, but shares top billing on Scout. But he is an across-the-board five-star prospect.
The Woodbridge, Va. product steps into the spotlight that Nkemdiche exited to join Hugh Freeze’s team at Ole Miss. Get to know the name now, because the same interest and fanfare that followed Clowney and Nkemdiche’s recruitment is coming.
The nation hasn’t seen a Hand this intimidating since American History class at Ridgemont High. Hand is a sack machine who registered 21 as a sophomore. Most sophomores are still cutting their teeth at the junior varsity level.
Let the Clowney comparisons begin in earnest. He’s the same kind of backfield-rushing threat that Clowney was coming out of Rock Hill, S.C., and remains as a Heisman Trophy candidate for South Carolina. And indeed, Steve Spurrier is among the suitors Rivals.com reports having an inside track on this ballyhooed ball rusher.
Also in pursuit is Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer is a successful recruiter in the commonwealth, and Bud Foster’s defenses typically rank among the nation’s best. Last season was an aberration from which Beamer and Foster hope to overcome quickly, and Hand could be the perfect cornerstone for reestablishing Virginia Tech as one of the most formidable defenses in football.
Perusing the rest of the 2014 Top 100 reveals plenty of usual suspects hot on the trail. Take five-star running back Leonard Fournette, a New Orleans product who rushed for 2135 yards and 31 touchdowns for St. Augustine last season. The three top teams on his list are also the last three teams to play in the BCS championship game: nearby LSU, Notre Dame and — what highly touted running back recruit’s list would be complete without this name? — Alabama.
Of interest in the coming weeks for the class of 2014 is early commitment. Last season, a plethora of top tier prospects gave their verbal pledges early into the process, only to have changes of heart later down the road. Nkemdiche was among them, originally giving his commitment to Clemson, but reversing course in November.
All the attention the slew of early commitments generated last year — a lot of it negativity — might dissuade this class from announcing long before it’s time to put pen-to-paper on National Signing Day 2014.