PROVO — Freshman Jaren Hall isn't exactly trying to become BYU's version of Kyler Murray — but he’s traveling down a similar road.
Hall, who completed his first season as a backup quarterback last fall, recently joined the baseball team, becoming the Cougars' latest dual-sport athlete.
Hall made his baseball debut over the weekend — he went 0 for 4 with a run scored in two games, pinch-hitting in one contest and starting as an outfielder in another.
He'll also participate in spring football practice, which kicks off in two weeks, on March 4.
Growing up, Hall played and enjoyed both sports and that’s what he intends to do moving forward at the collegiate level.
“It’s been both all along. I’ve loved them both,” he said. “In high school, as I got older, football became that love as my recruitment took off for that. But as I look at it, I think they go together. They’re kind of two peas in a pod — football and baseball.”
From Day 1, he’s squared the ball up and if he gets a lot of at-bats, he could be a starter for us. He’s been that good and that refined. – BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood
Murray, who was picked No. 9 overall by the Oakland A’s in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft, quarterbacked Oklahoma last fall and won the Heisman Trophy. Last week, Murray announced he’s decided to turn down a nearly $5 million signing bonus and forgo baseball to pursue an NFL career.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time studying his game but I see his highlights and hear about him,” Hall said of Murray. “I’ve looked into his path to that. I don’t know if he’s an example but I do look at what he’s done. But I’m really trying to create my own path and do as he’s done, too.”
Hall returned home from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Roseville, California, last spring and made an immediate impression on the football coaches during fall camp in August.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from Spanish Fork saw limited action in two games in 2018. He took some snaps but didn’t attempt a pass, and rushed four times for four yards.
In high school, Hall starred on the baseball field, too. Since January, Hall — who is on a football scholarship — has been working out with both BYU teams.
When it comes to football, “that’s been the priority since Day 1,” Hall said.
BYU football coach Kalani Sitake, and other Cougar coaches, are supportive of Hall’s moonlighting as a baseball player, even though starting quarterback Zach Wilson won’t be throwing during spring practices due to recent shoulder surgery.
BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood wasn’t sure what to expect when Hall started working out with his team in January.
“I thought he would come out for two or three weeks in January — we’d been talking for a year — and play two or three weeks and think, ‘I’m overmatched. Let me try to work on my game and come back next year,’” he said. “From Day 1, he’s squared the ball up and if he gets a lot of at-bats, he could be a starter for us. He’s been that good and that refined. He’s got a ways to go, but we’re really, really excited about what he’s going to bring to the table.”
BYU has had athletes play both sports in the past. Most recently, current Cougar tight end Matt Bushman did it for a while. So did Jacob Hannemann, who was a cornerback for the Cougar football team. Hannemann’s talent in baseball kept him from ever playing football at BYU and he went on to be selected in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft.
Littlewood is thrilled to have Hall at his disposal as long as circumstances permit.
“What makes it nice is, spring ball is in March and we’re home three of the four weeks in March. He’s going to be able to be with us a little bit,” Littlewood said. “We can’t let this guy go out of our program because he could be a starter, if not next year, depending on what he does in football. It was the same thing with Hannemann ... We understand that.
“Kalani’s been great to work with,” Littlewood continued. “We know (Hall is) football first. It’s kind of great because in the role we need him for, pinch-runner, to go in defensively, maybe start here and there, and see where the season progresses. He doesn’t need to be a starter for us, like Hannemann did. Jaren doesn’t have to do that for us. He can kind of ease into it a little bit. As a person, he’s 100 times better than I ever anticipated he’d be. It’s going to be great for the culture of our team. He’s going to be pretty fun to watch this year.”
The skill that was hardest for Hall to get back after a long layoff from baseball was his swing. “That’s still a process for me. I’m still in the beginning stages,” he said. “I’m by no means an all-star or anything at that level. I’m a freshman, I’m where every other freshman begins — at the bottom, working my way up.”
At what point during Hall’s return to baseball did he realize he’d be able to compete at this level?
“I think I’ve known it all along, just the competitor in me. As far as my skills at the beginning, I was a little skeptical about it, not knowing if it would come back as quick as I wanted,” he said. “But I knew eventually it would come back. I knew I had the talent I’ve been blessed with to play this sport. It was just a matter of taking the things the coaches have shared with me the past couple of weeks and implementing them into my game. As that took place, I think I finally got comfortable and confident in my abilities again to compete at this level.”
During the offseason, Hall's been splitting his time between football and baseball. “Kind of 50-50, honestly. Any time I’m outside of football, I’m playing baseball," he said. "When I’m not playing baseball, I’m with football. It’s a 50-50 split right now and that’s kind of where I’d like to keep it.”
While Hall is excited about playing baseball after a three-year layoff from the sport, he's also looking forward to spring practices in football and getting plenty of reps while Wilson recovers from surgery.
“For me and all the other quarterbacks, it’s stepping up our roles. Zach was a huge contributor to our team and he still is, even going through his surgery,” he said. “We’re confident (Wilson will) come back strong when that time comes. But for now (it's important) for the rest of the quarterbacks to fill in for him and go where he left off and to continue to build our offense and our football team in general. It’s a huge time for all of us as quarterbacks to develop ourselves, to learn the offense better and to help the team any way we can.”
Hall is the son of former BYU running back Kalin Hall and former BYU gymnast Hollie Hamilton Hall. Last fall, Jaren became the first African-American to take snaps at quarterback for the Cougars.
“I didn’t think about it too much as I went into it, growing up around these kids, not really seeing those differences in me and my brothers,” Jaren Hall said of that milestone. “As I think about it, it’s a blessing. It’s a privilege just to be at this special university and to take that role.”
As a backup quarterback, Hall tried to make the most of the 2018 season.
“It was a great year. For every incoming freshman, it’s a process to come in and learn the offense … getting relationships with the players and coaches and finding where you fit into the program and how you can contribute, whether you’re on the field or off the field,” he said. “For me, it was a matter of taking mental reps and understanding things the best that I can.”
Hall was able to take advantage of a new NCAA rule that allows freshmen to play up to four games without burning a redshirt year. He will be a redshirt freshman on the football team next season with four years of eligibility remaining.
One of Kalin Hall’s teammates at BYU, quarterback Ryan Hancock, played both football and baseball for the Cougars in the early 1990s. Hancock played in a baseball game and participated in the spring football game on the same day.
Can Jaren Hall imagine himself doing that? BYU's spring game is scheduled for March 23. That day, the baseball team is hosting Portland, too.
“I could see something like that happening,” Hall said. “I’m not exactly sure how the schedule works out but it would be a great day — play a game of baseball then hop over to the football field.”