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BYU football: Senior season could be special for Hall

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PROVO — If nothing else, history is on Max Hall's side.

Going way back to 1974, well before Hall was born, BYU senior quarterbacks have won 81 percent of their games as starters, and almost all have led the Cougars to a conference championship.

That's great news for Hall, who happens to be a senior quarterback.

"It's a nice stat," he said with a smile. "Hopefully, I can keep it rolling, you know what I mean?"

Hall and the Cougars opened fall camp Saturday looking to improve on last year's 10-3 campaign. For Hall, it's his final season as a college football player — and that fact has sunk in.

"It's a totally new perspective when you're a senior, knowing this is your last year and this is your last shot," said Hall, who is 21-5 as a starter. "You're going to prepare like crazy and do everything you can to make sure you're ready to step into those situations where your team needs you."

BYU quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, who himself was a senior quarterback for the Cougars in 2001, knows that a senior season is something special and that Hall still has a lot to prove.

"There's a sense of urgency a senior has that a junior does not have," Doman said. "As much as you try to put it in a junior, they just don't have that same (urgency) a senior does. Coach (Bronco) Mendenhall has commented several times that our football team is much further ahead right now than it's ever been. That's a direct correlation to the preparation through the summer. That comes through the senior leadership and a senior quarterback. We're excited about that. I don't want to jinx him or put undue pressure on him, because he already feels that, but I couldn't have asked him to be more ready than he is right now."

Hall finished No. 6 in the country in passing yards per game in 2008 and is the Mountain West Conference's preseason offensive player of the year. He's looking to rebound from a poor finish at the end of last season, when he threw six interceptions and coughed up two fumbles in losses to Utah and Arizona.

"You're always going to have a bad taste in your mouth with a game like (the one against Utah)," Hall said. "For the most part, we've moved on. We're excited about '09, we're excited about what we can do this year and the challenges ahead of us."

During the offseason, Hall has been able to reflect on his experiences as a BYU quarterback.

"For me, I've gone through so much in my career here at BYU — I've gone through big wins, big losses, bad games, good games. I've learned a ton," he said. "What I think I've realized is, I can be as good as I want to be and this football team can be as good as we want to be if we prepare right and if we can manage the chaos and if I can be good in tough situations. If we can do that and guys step up around me, we'll be just fine."

Fair or not, BYU quarterbacks shoulder much of the blame when things go wrong and receive much of the adulation when things go right.

"Max is learning what it's like to have a public criticism besides the praise," Mendenhall said. "His first year as a sophomore he helped win a championship. Then, he could do very little wrong. His junior year he helped us win 10 games but didn't play well in some games and didn't help meet expectations. There are those who are very outspoken about in criticism about the coach and the quarterback. Max is learning a lot about who he is regardless of what others say he is. That's a great thing for him that he's come out of it as he has. He is more confident, more self-reliant. And he has a clearer sense of who he is. It's hard to learn that if you aren't in the seat where he is. He's been through refiner's fire, so to speak, and that's a good thing for him."

As for the first day of practice, Hall was happy with what he saw.

"It felt really good. I think we had a lot of momentum heading into fall camp," he said. "For the first day, I'm very excited about this football team. I think we'll win a lot of games."

NOTES: Defensive lineman Rick Wolfley left the football program Friday. … Fullback Manase Tonga is still trying to clear up some academic issues and could report to camp next week, Mendenhall said.

Day 1: The Cougars opened camp Saturday afternoon with a two-hour practice in helmets and shorts. The newcomers reported first, then the veterans were integrated into the session. Cornerback Robbie Buckner, a returned missionary, drew rave reviews from his teammates and coaches for his play while wide receiver O'Neill Chambers had a long catch-and-run that nearly went for a touchdown during 11-on-11 drills.

Injuries: Nothing significant.

Next: BYU is scheduled to practice again Monday afternoon as it progresses through the NCAA's acclimatization period.

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com