PROVO — A few weeks ago, as BYU was preparing to face nationally ranked USC and backup quarterback Kedon Slovis after Trojans’ starter JT Daniels sustained a season-ending injury in the opener, Cougars backup Jaren Hall was asked if he was ready to take over BYU’s offense if starter Zach Wilson ever went down.
“I feel like I am ready to go. Whenever that happens, whenever that time comes, I am confident in myself and my abilities that I will be ready. The coaches have prepared me well and I feel good about it.” — BYU quarterback Jaren Hall
“Yeah, absolutely,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound redshirt freshman from Spanish Fork and Maple Mountain High told the Deseret News in an exclusive interview. “I feel like I am ready to go. Whenever that happens, whenever that time comes, I am confident in myself and my abilities that I will be ready. The coaches have prepared me well and I feel good about it.”
That time is now.
After Wilson sustained what appears to be a fractured thumb on his throwing hand in the final minute of Saturday’s 28-21 loss at Toledo, Hall took over and completed passes to Lopini Katoa, Moroni Laulu-Pututau and Talon Shumway before overthrowing Shumway in the end zone on the final play of the game.
Head coach Kalani Sitake told various media outlets that Hall “is probably going to be the guy against South Florida” on Oct. 12 because Wilson “is probably going to be out for a little bit.”
Rumors swirled Saturday night and into Sunday regarding the extent of Wilson’s injury, and a picture of Wilson wearing a soft cast on his right hand was posted on Twitter with speculation that he would be out three to six weeks depending on the severity of a “broken thumb.”
Hall completed one pass for 19 yards — to Wilson, ironically — against USC and is now 4 of 7 for 58 yards on the season after throwing for 39 yards on the final drive against Toledo.
“It was a hard spot to throw him into, but he was ready for it. He’s got tons of confidence, and then there are some things that we can do with him at the quarterback that gives us a little bit of an advantage,” Sitake said. “I am glad we have a bye week to get ready.”
It will be a historic moment in Tampa, Florida, because Hall will become the first African-American to ever start a game at quarterback for BYU. The son of former BYU running back Kalin Hall downplayed the significance of that achievement last season after directing a series of plays against UMass, saying he doesn’t see himself as a trailblazer.
“I’m just another football player,” he said in 2018.
In the aforementioned interview on Sept. 11, Hall said he’s been “a quarterback my entire life” and has always practiced with the mindset that he will be BYU’s starter some day.
“I try to use my unique talent and unique skill set any way I can,” he said. “That’s my approach, every single day.”
Viewed as a superb all-around athlete, Hall was a center fielder on BYU’s baseball team last spring.
“Right now I am just focusing on football, and when the season is over we will get to that decision,” he said of his baseball career.
Hall said before the USC game that the “realities of college football” pointed toward him getting playing time this season.
“It is a physical game and you have to be two or three guys deep in the quarterback position,” he said. “I feel like I can do a good job. You never wish injury upon anybody, but you gotta be ready to go when your number is called.”
Receiver Micah Simon said he was unaware that Wilson was hurt until he ran out on the field for BYU’s final possession and saw Hall at quarterback.
“I was like, ‘all right, here we go,’” Simon said. “He works hard in practice and he’s always ready for his time. He put us in a good position. He was put in a really hard position trying to go the length of the field in 51 seconds. He gave us a shot. That’s all you can ask for.”
Simon said the team has a lot of confidence in Hall.
“I know the kind of work Jaren put in all offseason and in spring ball when Zach was out (after January shoulder surgery) and the type of player that he is. We have two weeks to prepare, so I know he will be ready and we will have his back and be good to go.”
Cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku said the Cougars learned from the loss that they can’t take any team for granted.
“Everyone was talking about how four games, the first four games, were going to be the toughest,” Ghanwoloku said. “But it is always going to be tough. Teams aren’t going to come out there like they aren’t going to win. Every game is going to be a dogfight. We just have to fight harder.”
No matter who the starting quarterback is.