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Thursday, November 14, 2013
U-M, UF regroup after Hand decision

By Jeremy Crabtree

Some losses on the recruiting trail sting just as badly as a gut-wrenching defeat on the field.

Just ask the Michigan coaching staff after five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) selected Alabama over Michigan and Florida on Thursday.

Hand’s decision to head to the SEC won’t cause the Wolverines’ class to be labeled a failure; it is ranked as the nation’s seventh best. But with Michigan projected to be in the driver’s seat for almost all of Hand’s recruitment and with a significant need at the strongside defensive end spot, his decision to commit to the Tide is a crushing blow.

Hand talked at length throughout the recruiting process about how he loved the educational opportunities in Ann Arbor and how he really felt comfortable around other Michigan recruits and the coaching staff. But in the end, the lure to play in the nation’s best conference for the nation’s best program was simply too good to pass up.

It’s a situation Michigan coaches surely never thought they would be in, and now they’re forced to scramble to find other options at the position.

Malik McDowell
In-state target Malik McDowell now becomes an even bigger priority for the Wolverines.
The good news is that there are a few, including one of the fastest rising defensive end prospects in the entire nation. Local defensive end Jhonathon Williams (Berrien Springs, Mich./Berrien Springs) committed to Missouri at the end of September, but he has continued to pick up offers and interest from teams all over the Midwest after his strong play as a senior. Notre Dame offered him a scholarship on Wednesday and Michigan has started to talk to him more. Now that Hand has bolted for Tuscaloosa, Williams could be in line for an offer.

Another option is uncommitted ESPN 300 defensive tackle Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield). Even though most schools are recruiting him as a defensive tackle, he could find a spot at strongside defensive or three technique depending on the situation. The RecruitingNation Hot Board projects McDowell to end up in Ann Arbor.

Florida coach Will Muschamp doesn’t lose too many recruiting battles either, but the Gators are also left looking for an elite pass rusher after Hand selected the Tide. Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is a budding star, but Hand was identified early on as a must-get target. Coupled with the Gators’ past success in the D.C. area, it was always believed they would be a factor in his recruitment and they recruited that way.

So now Muschamp is looking a different direction to fill the need at defensive end. The likely solution resides in Norcross, Ga., home to five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter.

Carter, the nation’s No. 3 defensive end, is also one of the most highly coveted prospects in the country, and Florida is right in the thick of things with him. Alabama was projected as Carter’s leader, but you have to wonder if Georgia or Florida has a better shot now after Hand picked the Tide. Florida’s staff made a big impression with Carter early on and a visit to Gainesville this summer pushed the Gators into the lead before Alabama and Georgia pushed their way to the top, too.

In the end, Florida likely needs to land a playmaker at defensive end more than Alabama does. The Gators do have a commitment from ESPN 300 prospect Justus Reed (Clearwater, Fla./Central), but you could make the argument that Carter is the No. 1 prospect on the Gators board now that Hand is off the market. Muschamp has strung together back-to-back impressive classes, but for all of the success, defensive end is one position that hasn’t been at the same level as other positions.