However, years later as an Explorer, the end came swiftly. That is until then-Prep coach Gil Brooks offered Hand, only a junior at La Salle, a coaching job. A year later, he became the Hawks' defensive coordinator.
"It was kind of like the medicine I needed," Hand said. "Making that ultimate decision that you're not playing ever again [is tough], so the next best thing was coaching. It enabled me to give back and also to cope with not playing again."
Now, Hand, 35, leads a hungry Huskies squad looking to fill the void left in Public League AA play, with Imhotep stepping up to AAA, after throttling AA opponents 300-20 in six games last season (with a 2-0 forfeit victory against Del-Val).
Seventeen to 18 starters return from last year's team, which finished 3-1 in league play (7-4 overall) and won the school's first playoff game (40-12 against Roxborough).
"I expect for us to be very competitive," he said. "With the success we had last year and the amount of returning starters, I fully expect for this team to compete for the AA Public League championship.
"For [Imhotep] to move up, I mean they beat everybody by 50 points last year, so in a way it's a sigh of relief, but in the same breath, we'll just worry about the next game, because that's the most important game."
The Huskies open the season against Cardinal O'Hara on Saturday at 11 a.m. in Ocean City, N.J.
Senior quarterback Vian Dolo, who threw for 1,544 yards and rushed for 470 more, will again be Prep Charter's offensive catalyst. Junior running back Quadir Strothers will be Dolo's main weapon, while fellow junior Karamo Dioubate, a 6-4, 240-pound offensive/defensive lineman last season, will hold down the defense.
As a 6-foot, 185-pound junior, Dolo passed for 17 scores and ran for 10. That production will likely need to increase after the team lost stellar senior wideout Curan Simmons (Kutztown), whose 1,012 receiving yards made him the second player over 1,000 in Pub history (King's Delane Hart and Fels' Jylil Reeder also surpassed that mark last season).
"I'm expecting really big things . . . from him in the second year in our system," Hand said of Dolo. "He's put on weight, gotten faster, stronger, spending more time in the film room and he just has more command over the offense."
For Hand, he said he owes his offensive and defensive acumen to his Prep days where he learned from Brooks, who coached the Hawks from 1992 to 2009, and then-offensive coordinator Steve Devlin, now the head Viking at Archbishop Wood.
"I knew how much [Brooks] sacrificed for me," said Hand, a special education teacher at Prep Charter. "I mean, he did everything for me. He was a really a father figure in my life, so when he asked me to coach, it was a no-brainer."
Coaching at age 20 meant earning respect from players he once shared lockers with, but Hand said that once he established the player/coach line, it was "pretty much gravy."
That leadership style has Prep Charter looking to contend in AA play, but Hand eventually wants more.
"I want us to be a state contender, not just a local contender," he said, "so that's where I'm looking to build this [program]."
On Twitter: @AceCarterDN