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August 1, 2013The No. 1 overall player in the class of 2014's Rivals100 wasn't take a recruiting visit last week, despite being a couple of hours from home. And one of the nation's top defensive tackles in the class of 2015 may have been on a field but it wasn't his own.
Instead, Da'Shawn Hand and Tim Settle were coaching younger kids not only on the specifics of rips and swims but also on the way to set themselves up for the right path beyond football.
These were the soon-to-haves giving back even before they've got much to give.
"Perspective," Hand said when asked what he wanted to give the 8-14 year olds in attendance at last week's Glen Lea Football Camp just outside of Richmond. "It's important for them to hear what we had to say and it's important for us to be the ones telling them."
Settle and Hand, defensive linemen with bonafide NFL aspirations, had someone who took an interest in them, who told them what to do and what not to do, who made sure they stayed on the right path.
Glen Lea's Robert Scott, who has been overseeing the program for decades, said it's refreshing and somewhat humbling to see the future stars on the gridiron take the time (and travel from northern Virginia to the Richmond area) to help out.
"I think players, even guys that are juniors and seniors in high school like them, I think they understand that it's never too early to start focusing on school, on being a better person, on staying out of trouble," Scott said. "I feel like the kids listen better to them because, with us? Man, they can't see themselves as being old like us. But they can see themselves as juniors or seniors in high school. That's real. And the message is stronger."
The two recruits made their way to Richmond thanks to a connection with John Harris, a former coach of Hand's at Woodbridge who is from the east end of Henrico and still works out with them.
Settle, a 6-foot-2, 307-pound defensive tackle from Stonewall Jackson in Manasas, is a quiet guy. But get him around a group of kids who are itching to play football and watch the shell fade away.
"It was always my uncle and my coaches that worked with me," Settle recalled. "I always had someone I could work with. I loved football from day one and I remember being five when I was playing up because I was always bigger than everybody. I fell in love with football then.
"Being out here, you realize how much you can be a role model. You kind of are whether you like it or not. They look up to us," the 16-year old explained.
Is there a pressure that comes with being a role model that early?
"Not to me, it's not pressure," Settle said. "It's easy for me, to be around them and all. I know a lot of this stuff, the different moves and stuff, by heart so I can teach what I've learned. That part is easy. Talking to them, though, they need to know what to do and not to do. They need to see it."
The pressure that Hand, a 6-foot-4, 248-pound defensive end, has experienced as the country's best recruit is real. Being the role model for kids? He agreed with Settle, saying that it comes easy just as long as he stays true to himself and makes good decisions. That's one of the reasons he's enjoying his first season on the sidelines coaching youth football closer to home.
"They're 10 and 11 year olds," Hand explained. "They're like sponges. And if you influence them in a positive way, then they can be great.
"That's not pressure at all to me because it's me, you know? I can understand if I was up here being somebody else, being something I'm not. I'm not putting on a show. This is me."
Hand's earliest football memory goes back to the first time he remembers making his family proud through football.
"So my dad, he came down for a game of mine when I was in middle school," Hand recalled. "It was like two plays in and I hadn't made anything happen. And he came down to the field and told me that my whole family was watching and that I needed to do something. So I told him, 'Dad, I've got you.' Next play, sweep to my side, I came running, guy cut back, and I cracked him! Oh my goodness! It was so loud, it was something serious. And ever since then I've been in love with this game."
Being out with the younger kids and watching them learn is something Hand says he really enjoys.
"It comes natural to me because I have a lot of little people in my family, cousins and their friends and stuff," he said. "I'm a family-oriented kind of guy. I love being around people."
Maybe that's why he has aspirations that go beyond just playing college and professional football..
"I want to build and design stadiums and locate them," Hand said. "And I want to finance them. And innovate and add on to recreation centers. The more recreation center and pools, the better. People need to swim more and be active. Lot of us, we get online and all that. I like how it was in the old school where instead of going online, we'd play a little Nintendo and then and go outside. I think we need to get back to that."
As the cars drove down Laburnum Avenue in what's considered metro Richmond's East End last week, they didn't slow down to gawk. It won't be long until crowds do so whenever Hand or Settle are on the field.
"That's one of the great things about both of these guys and the people in our community that have helped out these kids for a lot of years," Scott added. "We can all see ourselves in these kids. And we want to do everything we can to make sure they have fun and learn along the way."
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