TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama has been down this road before.
In each of the last three years, the No. 1 player ranked in the ESPN 150 has been a defensive end, and in two of those three years, the Crimson Tide have been right there, among the finalists. Still, as close as they have come, they haven’t been able to land that top-ranked player.
In 2011, Alabama came up short as Jadeveon Clowney chose to stay close to home and committed to South Carolina. This year, Robert Nkemdiche has already committed to Clemson, but that doesn’t mean the Tide are out of it yet. There is a lot of time before signing day, and plenty of schools are still recruiting the Georgia native.
In 2014, Da’Shawn Hand is the early front-runner to be the nation’s No. 1 player, and once again, Alabama has already made an early impression on the ESPN Watch List defensive end.
In addition to Hand, the talent is deep along the defensive line in the class of 2014, and the Tide are hoping to take advantage.
DE Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith): Hand is the defensive lineman everybody talks about from Virginia, but Brown is pretty talented in his own right. He already has more than 20 offers, including one from Alabama. UA assistant coach Lance Thompson went to watch him play last month, and Brown is planning to visit Tuscaloosa this fall, possibly for the Texas A&M game.
DE Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge): Over the summer, Hand attended Alabama’s camp and blew away the competition, particularly in the one-on-one drills. It was his first trip to Tuscaloosa. At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he has the versatility to play defensive end or the Tide’s Jack linebacker position at the next level. After the camp, Hand said he wants to return in November for the Auburn game.
DE Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Ca./La Mirada): Listed as a defensive end on ESPN, Luatua can play multiple positions. He plays tight end and outside linebacker for his high school. Regardless of where he ends up, the California native has a chance to be a star at the next level. Alabama feels good about its chances because Tyler’s brother, Issac Luatua, plays offensive guard for the Tide.
DT Elisha Shaw (Tucker, Ga./Tucker): At 6-5, nearly 300 pounds, Shaw is a hard guy to miss. He earned an offer from Alabama at its camp this past summer, and the Tide have to be considered one of the early favorites to land his signature. Shaw visited UA in September for the Tide’s home opener, and he’s planning to be back again this weekend as Alabama hosts No. 11 Mississippi State.
DE Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr): When Landon Collins picked Alabama last year, it came as a surprise to most, including his own mother. Now, Tide fans are hoping his brother, Willis, follows the same path. The ESPN Watch List star has visited Tuscaloosa several times to see his Collins and is familiar with UA’s program. Will the chance to play with his brother at the next level be enough to pull him out of the state and away from LSU?