PROVO — Not counting friendly fitness competitions with his wife Breanna, a “workout junkie” and former Utah Valley University soccer standout, BYU football quarterback and baseball outfielder Jaren Hall cannot remember the last time he went this long without participating in a competitive athletic event.
Probably before grade school, he surmises.
“It’s been really different,” Hall said last week as BYU football players wrapped up their second week of workouts at the Student Athlete Building since being allowed to return to campus — with heavy restrictions — since June 1. “This has to be a record for me, having so much time off between games in one sport or another.”
A lot of college athletes’ lives were rocked on March 12 when the NCAA started shutting everything down due to the coronavirus outbreak, but few, if any, were impacted as much as Hall, the two-sport athlete from Maple Mountain High who drew national attention last fall when he became the first African American to start at quarterback for BYU.
Hall was at Miller Park when the word came, preparing to face Loyola Marymount in the first game of a three-game series on BYU’s baseball field. BYU’s seventh practice of spring football was scheduled to occur that evening, but it and the remaining practices and spring game were also canceled.
“It was just strange,” Hall said. “It is hard to put it into words. We were just shocked. There were a lot of tears when we found out what was happening. The uncertainty was hard to deal with. It felt like a dream. It was hard to watch the (baseball) seniors, knowing how much last season meant to them.”
Hall said the time off was good for him, in a way, because although he would rather have been trying to help BYU’s baseball team win the West Coast Conference title, it did enable him to focus entirely on training for the 2020 football season, which looks like it will be played despite some early doubts.
He and Breanna (nee: McCarter) worked out at home before a few gyms opened, then conditioned at a friend’s gym in Springville.
“She’s been kicking my butt the whole time,” Hall said.
Hall said BYU football players wear masks when they enter the SAB every morning, are broken up into smaller groups before they enter the weight room, have their temperature taken, and are asked if they have any of the symptoms associated with the coronavirus. He and fellow quarterback Zach Wilson said players who recently returned from outside the area have been tested for COVID-19, but those who remained in the area have not unless they were symptomatic.
Regarding the recent NCAA football oversight committee’s proposal that walk-throughs and a six-week practice plan for the season could begin as early as mid-July — the NCAA’s Division I council will vote on the proposal Wednesday — Hall said he would be “excited for that” and believes it will be good to get new players integrated formally before traditional fall camp begins in early August.
“We’ve been as respectful as possible to what is going on with the pandemic as we move forward,” Hall said.
They’ve also been respectful to the protests and calls for racial equality going on throughout the country, including a Black Lives Matter rally in Provo last Saturday.
Hall and teammates Khyiris Tonga, Matt Bushman, Chaz Ah You, Troy Warner, Malik Moore, Chris Wilcox, D’Angelo Mandell, George Udo, Talmage Gunther and Shamon Willis participated in a “Be The Change” video released by BYU Football’s official Twitter account on June 10.
Each player stressed the importance of unity and equality.
“My brother embraces my differences,” Hall said in the one-minute clip.
“Stand with us and help bring justice,” Wilcox said.
The son of former BYU running back Kalin Hall said a couple guys on the team came up with the idea and it went from there.
“We have guys from all over,” Jaren Hall said. “It was just a way to get our voices out there. We feel very passionately that we can have a strong voice and share the differences in our lives and share the stories of where we came from, but also let everybody know that we have the same goal. … I was blessed to be a part of it and I’m glad I was asked to be a part of it. It was a powerful deal.”
BYU coach Kalani Sitake, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick have repeatedly said all winter and spring that the competition to be the Cougars’ starting quarterback against Utah on Sept. 3 is “wide open.” Hall said that was evident during spring camp. He and Wilson, who started nine games in 2019, got most of the reps, and Baylor Romney got some as he returns from a foot injury.
“My attitude is always positive,” Hall said. “That is sports — competition is everything. Competition is always going to be there. So you just go out there, control what you can control and emphasize that getting better personally is what matters the most. You just play ball and give it everything you have.”
Hall said the Cougars are excited about their offense’s potential and their defense’s experience and depth.
“We know we are a great team,” he said. “We know there are a lot of great things ahead of us. We just have to work on the little things, and get ready for our game against Utah. We just have to be better all around, and I think that will come with the experienced players we have on both sides of the ball and the great leaders we have.”