BYU football: How ‘good guy’ QB Jaren Hall has won over his teammates
BYU quarterback Jaren Hall doesn’t particularly like being in the spotlight, and he certainly doesn’t seek it out.
Friends, teammates, family members and those who have coached him since his youth football, basketball and baseball days say the talented athlete who will forever be known as the first African American quarterback to start a football game for BYU is actually reserved, even a bit shy.
But that doesn’t mean Hall isn’t enjoying his current status as BYU’s starting QB, status that makes him one of the most recognizable persons in Utah County, maybe even the entire state.
“I just feel like I know a lot of people in the community, and then you add playing for BYU as the quarterback, you create a lot more fans among the people you see. It has been really fun for me, being out in the public, seeing so many smiling faces, people who recognize me, and have conversations with them. … People are so kind. It is awesome.” — BYU quarterback Jaren Hall
“Seems like I know a lot of people, and a lot of people know me,” Hall told the Deseret News at BYU football media day last week when he was asked what it is like to be the BYU quarterback in this state. “It’s cool. It’s fine. We have the greatest fans in the world.”
Having grown up in Utah County the son of one of the better running backs in Cougars football history, Kalin Hall, Jaren Hall knows exactly what that title means.
“It means you could probably run for mayor (of Provo) and win,” former BYU QB Tanner Mangum once said, before being the last Cougars signal-caller to lose his starting job, giving way to freshman and future No. 2 NFL draft pick Zach Wilson midway through the 2018 season.
Taking the reins full-time last year after Wilson guided the Cougars to an 11-1 record in 2020 and was drafted by the New York Jets, Hall got a taste of it quickly. He was the toast of the town after leading BYU to a 26-17 win over rival Utah last September, ending the Utes’ nine-game winning streak in the rivalry.
Even in defeat, that 38-24 loss to Baylor, Hall stood out, passing for 342 yards and breaking off a 56-yard touchdown run.
Those performances came after he emerged from a three-way starting QB battle with Jacob Conover and Baylor Romney and proved offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick’s decision correct. Hall also engineered wins over Power Five schools Arizona, Arizona State, Washington State, Virginia and USC.
The Cougars went 8-2 in the 10 games in which Hall started, and he finished the season completing 64% of his passes for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns with just five interceptions.
His efficiency rating was a sparkling 156.1.
“He just gets a little better every day. He had a really good year last year. I don’t want to overstate it, but to do what he did last year and get six Power Five wins last year, no BYU quarterback has ever come close to that before,” said Roderick. “So I don’t want to put unrealistic expectations on him, but I do expect him to get better. He has improved since last season. He has improved his body with his physical conditioning. He looks great right now. And his knowledge of our offense is growing.”
A popular man of the people
Entering the 2022 season, BYU’s final season as a college football independent and almost certainly Hall’s last season in Provo, he is clearly the big man on campus. He said he’s getting used to being a big deal around town, although he would never use that phrase personally to describe himself.
“He is probably the most humble dude I have ever met,” said starting left tackle Blake Freeland. “He’s a really good guy. You will give him a compliment, and he shoots it right back at you. He is really selfless, a good leader. Everybody has a lot of respect for him, and it is not respect that he demands. He doesn’t yell or scream. He is a really good example to me.”
If ever a kid was born to be BYU’s starting quarterback, it is this guy. His mother, Hollie, is also a former BYU athlete, having competed in gymnastics for the Cougars. His brother, KJ, played running back for BYU from 2015-17.
Jaren Hall served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Roseville, California, and played on the BYU baseball team in 2019 and 2020 as an outfielder with legitimate pro potential in that sport before giving it up to concentrate solely on football. He married former Utah Valley University soccer player Breanna McCarter, who gave birth to their daughter, Jayda, last summer.
BYU quarterback Jaren Hall laughs with his teammates during baseball practice at the indoor facility on the BYU campus in Provo on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. Hall later chose to walk away from baseball in order to focus on his football future.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Hall is the poster child for the perfectly behaved BYU quarterback that image-conscious school officials dream about.
“I just feel like I know a lot of people in the community, and then you add playing for BYU as the quarterback, you create a lot more fans among the people you see,” Hall said. “It has been really fun for me, being out in the public, seeing so many smiling faces, people who recognize me, and have conversations with them. It is a great experience. I have a lot of great interactions. … People are so kind. It is awesome.”
Does Hall ever grow weary of the spotlight? Teammates say he can scarcely go out to eat in public in Utah County — Momo’s Gourmet Cheesecake and CHOM Burger are among his favorites — without being asked for autographs, photos, etc. He said it is what he signed up for. No complaints.
“It just depends on what you are doing at the time, on the day, on the interaction, where you are at,” Hall said. “Being with the fans as cool as ours is fun. At the end of the day you look back on those interactions and you do it because you know there is a little kid who looks up to you and loves BYU, and you know it would mean a lot to them. It is more about them and their experience than yours.”
Receiver Gunner Romney said about the only thing Hall isn’t good at is pingpong.
“Jaren is an unreal natural leader,” Romney said. “He commands the room whenever he is there. He is the type of person everybody is going to listen to because of what he has to say, and I think that’s the most underrated part of his game and his personality, is his leadership.”
BYU’s quarterback Jaren Hall, right, celebrates with wide receiver Gunner Romney after Romney scored a touchdown against Arizona State game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Provo, Utah.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
Romney and others said Hall’s celebrity status won’t go to his head because his wife won’t let it happen.
“She keeps me on the straight and narrow, I will tell you that,” Hall quipped.
Always working to improve
Television broadcasters this year will have no shortage of storylines to describe Hall’s tenure at BYU, much like two years ago when Wilson’s 12-hour drives to California to work with former Cougars QB John Beck were frequently mentioned. Yes, Hall has done that as well.
“Except I flew out there,” Hall said. “I worked with John three weekends in May, I think it was. And then he comes here (frequently). I will work with him a dozen or so times this summer.”
Hall also continues to work with Dustin Smith, a former college baseball player who runs a private QB training company called QB Elite with former BYU star Ty Detmer and others. He was scheduled to work at one of Smith’s camps last weekend.
“I am definitively utilizing all I can from everybody who has something great to offer me,” Hall said. “I just think it is important to take a little bit here and there and just find what works best for me.”
Hall said he has learned a lot from both Beck and Smith. Beck’s strength is designing drills that improve in-game performance, he said.
“Just by taking your throwing mechanics and your style and making everything work in unison, properly,” Hall said. “And then to do that in real game speed (helps) … because I think a lot of quarterbacks find themselves in this rut in the summer where they just find their receivers and go throw and be smooth and easy and feel good about it. But in a game you are going to be sped up, you are going to be off balance and in tight situations, and that is how we train with John.”
For his part, Roderick is all for his quarterbacks seeking outside help to improve their games, especially in past years when coaches weren’t allowed to work with players in the offseason as much as they are now.
“Any time players are doing what they can to get better, I am all for it,” Roderick said. “… There are large portions of the year where I can’t go out on the field with my quarterback and do anything. And so if he is going to work with somebody else to get better, fine with me. I will never feel threatened by that. I have confidence in myself and what we do.”
How Hall wants to see 2022 season go
In the “State of the Program” television show that kicked off media day, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said Hall is really looking forward to the opener at South Florida, presumably because Hall was sacked five times and knocked out of the 2019 loss at USF when he made his first college start in relief of Wilson, who had fractured his thumb two weeks earlier at Toledo.
It was the first time BYU had ever started a Black quarterback, so there was some national focus on the matchup in Tampa, Florida, that humid Saturday afternoon.
“That’s part of it,” Hall said. “But more importantly, that is our first opponent (on Sept. 3). That is our first step to a great season, hopefully. Right now, that is the only team on our schedule that matters.”
Aside from winning every game, Hall said he doesn’t have a lot of specific goals in 2022 for himself or the team he leads. Obviously, remaining healthy is at the top of the list, too, after the former Maple Mountain High star missed three games last year due to various soft tissue injuries, and the entire 2020 season with a hip injury.
“Looking back at the last four years, we have been so close to doing a lot of great things, and we did some great things,” he said. “We talk about it as an offense: The goal this year is not to miss those opportunities.
“When you have this much experience and the guys that we do, it is easy to say, ‘Oh, we should have a perfect year, blah blah blah.’ No. We just want to take every opportunity to make the most of it,” he continued. “Because I think if we play at our best, those things will take care of themselves. It is about working hard, preparing right and not taking anything for granted.”
Then what? Although Hall is in his fifth year at BYU, he could technically return next year if he wants. He’s starting to dot some NFL mock drafts for the 2023 selection meeting.
“It will be the same approach as last year,” he said. “I will keep my options open.”
Hall said he keeps in touch with several former BYU QBs in the NFL, Wilson and Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints among them.
“I would love to be the third,” he said.
What happens if Hall gets hurt?
If Hall gets injured again, redshirt freshman Jacob Conover would enter the fray, Roderick said last week. Conover, a one-time four-star recruit from Gilbert, Arizona, is listed at QB2 on the post-spring depth chart released last week.
“Jacob had a really good spring, a solid spring. I thought he took a real step forward and showed that he has been here awhile and he knows what he is doing,” Roderick said. “He just ran the team, showed a lot of leadership. He is a really accountable guy who is always prepared and it is really important to him. This spring, it finally started to show that OK, he has been here long enough and he can run the show.”
Behind Hall and Conover are Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and walk-on Nick Billoups. Springville High quarterback Ryder Burton committed to the Cougars last month and has said he will sign in December, graduate early from high school and enroll next January.
For now, though, Hall is the unquestioned starter, and leader.
“It feels great to have a guy like Jaren coming back,” Sitake said. “I mean, he is a mature and great leader. I don’t think words can do justice on the impact he has made in our program. … We have a bunch of great leaders. I think the most visible is Jaren. He is handling it really well.”
Now, about that golf game
Sitake loves to say that BYU fans don’t expect him to improve at golf until he retires because that would mean he is spending too much time on the course and not enough on the betterment of the team.
Hall took up golf a few years ago, and he proudly proclaims to be the best golfer on the team, although he hasn’t been able to get out much this summer.
Golf is the way he relaxes and gets away from everything, he said, noting that he drives the ball long and putts and chips well, but needs to work on his approach game. He scores in the mid-80s on most Utah County courses, and once shot under 80 at Hobble Creek Golf Course in Springville.
“When I am retired, I will play a whole lot of golf, I will tell you that,” he said. “But until then, not much.”
Hall said that during COVID-19 he “got addicted to golf bad” and played a lot with older brother KJ, the former BYU RB. Tiger Woods and Utahn Tony Finau are his favorite pro golfers.
“I found that golf is a good getaway. It is better than sitting on your couch, watching TV. I am out in the country, seeing the beauty around us, but I can also be competitive with myself and play golf. … And my wife, she loves coming out with me, bringing the baby. So it is a fun little getaway when she comes. Yeah, I love golf.”
A lot more than being in the spotlight.
BYU quarterback Jaren Hall takes the snap as the Cougars and Idaho State play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News