Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – Notre Dame graduated three of its starting defensive linemen from a season ago and even with the switch to a 3-4 defense the Irish will be in search of two new starters this year. Junior to be Derrell Hand is one of the guys looking to land one of those spots and now that he is completely healthy, the Philadelphia native is ready to start making an impact.
Hand, one of just a handful of defensive linemen on the Notre Dame roster, spent most of last season with a nagging injury that really slowed his development and kept the big man from making an impact on the field. “I was really excited about last year because I was looked at as possibly the 4th guy to come off the bench to really help,” Hand told the media Wednesday. “The nagging injury just really came at a bad time.”
The nagging injury last year kept Hand on the sidelines more than he would have liked last summer, but this spring that has not been the case. “I’m full go, 100%, ready to get some work done,” Hand said about his health status this spring.
Getting to the point where he is ready to contribute on the field has been a long road for Hand even before the injuries. When he reported to Notre Dame two summers ago Hand was out of shape and need to transform his body. A process that was just as hard as over coming his injury problems from last year.
“Coming in my freshman year the summer was absolutely terrible,” Hand reminisced. “I called my mother every day whining ‘they’re killing me up here, somebody please come save me.’ I got through it.”
Hand hit the weight room, however, and the nickname of “Little Meatball” that he came to Notre Dame with has gone away. Hand would joke though that one nickname still pops up. “They called me the King,” in reference to a suspension he was given in his old West Philly Catholic days for leaving school to eat at a KFC.
Now that he is healthy and physically ready to play he has also raised the expectations of the Notre Dame coaches who have been working Hand pretty hard this spring. “Coach Jappy (Oliver) really rides me a lot so, I just try to hang in there and keep up the good work,” said Hand.
Oliver, the defensive line coach for the Irish the past two seasons, has also been throwing a lot of information at Hand, asking him to learn both of the defensive line positions in the new 3-4 alignment. “Coach Jappy has told me to learn both spots,” Hand would say before adding, “Learn how to get comfortable reading just my man basically because both of them are pretty much the same technique.”
Having interchangeable players throughout the defense has been a theme all spring long under new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown.
Hand has taken a liking to his new defensive coordinator and is eagerly looking forward to playing for him this year. “Coach brown brings a mean attitude to the team, something I haven’t seen since I’ve been here. This man makes you really want to go out there and lay everything on the field for him. I’m exited to play for him,” Hand said rather glowingly of his new defensive coordinator.
Hand also made mention of Brown’s ability to keep the defense simple. “Coming in Coach Brown has done a wonderful job, him and his staff, of just keeping it really simple for everybody. For the d-line its basically you’re going left, right, or straight down the middle.”
Hand elaborated a bit further on Brown’s simple approach by adding, “He preaches a lot, win your one on one battles.” That simple approach has been another recurring theme being said by the defensive players.
Where Hand ends up probably will have a lot to do with how well Chris Stewart can adapt to playing in the middle of the defensive line. In the 3-4 alignment, Hand is really a great fit for the end position, but if Chris Stewart isn’t able to man that position, Hand has the ability to slide over and fight for playing time there as well.
If Stewart can man the middle for the Irish though, Hand will push for a starting position at one of the end spots along with Trevor Laws – a fifth year senior that Hand has looked at for leadership this spring. “Trevor Law. Trevor Laws and Dwight Stephenson, the two fifth year seniors that are still here,” was Hand’s response to who he’s been looking to for leadership after the departure of veterans Derek Landri and Victor Abiamiri.
“They lead by action,” Hand said of the two fifth year seniors along Notre Dame’s defensive line. “Dwight Stephenson is a little more vocal than Trevor, but Trevor is the more experienced guy. I’m told everyday, if you don’t play like this guy (Laws), play better. He definitely has set a bar high for me.”
Hand would go on to talk a little bit more about how Laws leads by his actions adding, “He knows how to get the job done. He knows when to use strength. He knows when to you finesse. On the field he is a dominant player.” If there is one player for Hand to mold his game after on the current Irish roster, Laws is certainly the guy and it is pretty obvious that Hand has watched Laws very closely this spring.
Hand has really come a long way in the year and a half he has been on the Notre Dame campus and if he can stay healthy and continue to learn, Hand could really be a force along the defensive line whether it be at tackle or end.