The cry for help stopped Elder Jaren Hall just as the new Latter-day Saint missionary and his mission trainer were about to knock on a door in a sleepy Northern California town in the summer of 2016.
Across the street, a woman screamed, “He’s got my purse! He’s got my purse!”
The two missionaries, one of whom is now an NFL draft prospect, saw a man running away, so they sprinted for their official mission vehicle.
“We go hop in our car and we start driving down the road after him,” said Hall, one of the most efficient passing quarterbacks in BYU football history. “We didn’t want to get too close to this guy, because you never know if he could have weapons on him. I mean, this dude robbed this lady, so who knows.”
The elders called 911 and continued to slowly follow the suspect from a discreet, safe distance until the situation took a preposterous twist.
“Oddly enough, we had a little house at the time in the middle of a small town, and he ends up hiding in our backyard of our place,” Hall said. “He wanders down this alley, hops over our fence and ends up in our backyard.”
The stunned missionaries waited for the police to arrive and pointed them to their own house.
“It was really bizarre he would end up in our place of all places,” Hall said. “That was pretty wild. When I thought about a mission, I never thought I’d be chasing down somebody robbing a lady’s purse.”
The police recovered the purse, but that’s not the point of starting a story this way. Sure, the missionaries helped police arrest a purse snatcher and recover a woman’s property. Well, actually, Hall isn’t even sure they did arrest the man, because the missionaries didn’t stay and watch. Listening to him tell the story, one fact stood out and revealed something important about them, about Hall.
“We literally just left the dude in our backyard,” Hall said. “The police were there. We showed up later that night. Everything was cleared out. So I could not tell you what happened from there.
“We actually asked the police, ‘Hey, can you just leave us out of this? We don’t want to make any statements. There’s the guy; we’re out of here. We’ve got to go teach people about Jesus.’”
The police approved. The missionaries returned to their appointment, They apologized for being late. And they resumed sharing their message of peace.
As Hall considers whether to turn pro and enter April’s NFL draft or return to BYU for a final season, this is the story of a young man who has committed his young life to football, family and Jesus Christ, and reveals how he became the leader and man he is today.
‘We’d chop it up over football’
Hall has a one-word answer for what Jesus Christ means to him.
“Everything,” he said.
The gospel truly is the word of God and we do have a living and loving Savior Jesus Christ. God Speed my friends 👔☝🏽— Jaren Hall (@jarenhall3) June 7, 2016
That’s hardly unusual in college football or even the NFL. But only a small percentage of college football players walk away from the game for two years, giving up all skill development, any real weight training and nearly all exercise, to serve Christ.
“He’s why I served a mission,” Hall said. “I’ve always had faith in the Savior. I’ve always had faith in my relationship with him. I’ve always known down in every fiber of my being that he’s real. That he loves me. That he has a Father in heaven who is my Father in heaven. That makes us family.”
Missionary service allowed him to translate his own love of Christ into action, full time. It prepared him for being a leader and for making tough decisions, like the major one before him right now — return next year as BYU’s quarterback or declare for the NFL draft.
“As far as my decision to come back or stay, you know, I don’t ever get a light bulb or wake up with a thought in my head,” he said when asked about how he receives answers to prayers. “I know either decision will be good for me, and neither decision is going to be bad. I just got to continue to take my time and kind of divvy up what’s good and what’s bad about each decision,” he said.
“What I think and what my wife thinks will be best for us, because I think either way, I got a couple of good decisions out ahead of me and nothing necessarily is bad. It’s frustrating for me being who I am and wanting to know what I want to know, but that’s just kinda how the Spirit works with me and I guess how the Lord wants me to learn to make my own decision.”
Mission and football experience has brought him to this point. Early on during his California mission, he and his companion began to work with an alcoholic who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young man. The man told the missionaries he joined the church for a woman, but that they separated soon after they had a couple of children.
“He never really got immersed in it,” Hall said. “He was about in his 60s by the time we got to meet him. He was a super nice guy who loved sports. He was the biggest Notre Dame fan in the world. We’d chop it up over football. My companion would chop it up with him over hunting and fishing.”
The young missionaries had no experience with alcoholism, but they ached to help.
“We were constantly praying about him and thinking about him,” Hall said.
They tried to help him stop drinking. They visited regularly to teach him or say hello or get a glass of water. When he stopped drinking for a while, they joined him in his excitement. Then something would spark a relapse, and the two young men joined him in his pain.
“It was a roller coaster because we loved this man so much. We knew his heart was so pure,” Hall said.
The quarterback was still 18 and in his first weeks as a missionary.
“It was a lot you had to think through as a young kid,” he said. “I’d never experienced anything like that, so I had to really put myself in another person’s shoes and learn how to think, not like myself, but like him. It was tough.”
Hall wanted to help the man replace an addictive coping mechanism with something greater. The man needed more than their desire that he stop drinking. They stayed close. They helped him learn about his triggers. But it was the gospel of Jesus Christ that finally made the difference.
“We got him to crack open the ‘Book of Mormon’ and find some roots there, and that was the biggest change for him,” Hall said.
The roller coaster wasn’t over. Hall worked with the man for four months and then was transferred to a different area of the mission. Other missionaries came and went.
“Finally he kicked it for good about a year into my mission,” Hall said. “I went back and visited him as I was going from the north to the south, passing through the area. He was doing really good.”
Hall continued to learn empathy.
“It happened all throughout my mission,” he said, “learning to think like other people.”
Balancing Christian faith with a violent sport
BYU’s mission is to “provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued.” It does this by teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in a rigorous academic setting providing “the balanced development of the total person,” according to its mission statement.
Coach Kalani Sitake extends that to football in many ways. He gives full-throated support to players leaving for missions and openly talks about nurturing a culture of “love and learning.”
“It takes mature individuals to hear ‘love and learning’ and also play the game of football in an aggressive way because at the end of the day, you’re playing football,” Hall said. “It might be the most violent sport in the world, other than boxing and UFC. You got to have an edge to you. You got to be mature enough to understand that there’s some separation between how you act on the field and how you act off the field. Everyone’s got to have a little psycho in them, a little switch that they can flip when they when they walk on the field.”
Hall said balancing the grittiness of football with faith is an ongoing discussion in the football program.
“It’s on us as individuals to take that on the field and think of love and learning as ‘OK, now I love my brother enough that I’m gonna go knock this dude’s head off so I can protect him,’ or ‘I love my brother enough that I’m gonna go learn my play calls so I can be the best player I can be on the field.’”
Hall said Sitake has done a great job helping players address that balance. Hall’s takeaway is that while some see “love and learning” as soft and compassionate, there are good reasons to see that it also can be aggressive and physical.
He invokes the example of the Savior, pondering how he would approach love and learning in such a violent, aggressive sport. “I like to think about it like that. You can be a kind person, compassionate, but still play football, and that’s how Kalani runs his program.”
‘I was there for him’
Every NFL scout who evaluates Hall knows or will know what Hall did in the final seconds of a game on Sept. 10. BYU kicker Jake Oldroyd missed a short field goal that would have beaten ninth-ranked Baylor at the end of regulation. Then he missed another short field that would have won the game in overtime.
Hall hugged the kicker after each miss. “He told me over and over that he loved me, all the guys love me, and that he’s got my back,” Oldroyd said.
BYU finally took a 26-20 lead in overtime, but Baylor got one final shot at a touchdown to win the game and make Oldroyd the scapegoat. The quarterback found the kicker kneeling on the sideline watching the last play on the scoreboard. He knelt beside him.
“I just knew he had negative thoughts going through his head, feeling like he’d let us down,” Hall said. “We’ve all been there. It’s football. But at the same time, he’s done so much for us over the years and helped us win games we couldn’t have won without him. I just wanted to make sure, win or lose, that before the play ended, he knew I was there for him.”
No. 9 Baylor’s last-gasp pass fell incomplete. BYU fans rushed the field. Coaches and players celebrated. Hall and Oldroyd shared a bear hug for more than 30 seconds.
After @BYUfootball K @JakeOldroyd39 missed two game-winning field goals (end of regulation & first OT) @jarenhall3 knelt with him while @BYU D held Baylor to seal the win in 2nd OT, then Hall hugged his emotional teammate. @Deseret @drewjay pic.twitter.com/rqMDiaEujH— Tad Walch (@Tad_Walch) September 11, 2022
“If that was me, I’d want somebody else to comfort me and be there with me,” Hall said. “I just wanted Jake to know he was loved and that we’ll need him again.”
After that game, Oldroyd finished the season and his career by making 6 of 8 field goals and all 37 extra point tries on his way to becoming BYU’s all-time leading scorer with 338 points.
Sitake said the moment perfectly captured Hall’s leadership skills, which include listening, leading by example and mentoring young players.
“Listen, I don’t know if I can do it justice by saying how good his leadership is,” Sitake said after the game. “It’s nothing I can teach. He came to us that way, from his mom and dad. For me, I just try to get out of the way and let him lead. … It’s great when your quarterback is one of your best leaders; everybody mirrors his treatment of others.”
Hall agreed that his parents instilled leadership in him in their home, where they taught him to be the bigger man, take the high road and think, “What would Jesus do.”
“I feel like my mom really passed on the blessing of her love for other people, avoiding contention, looking past yourself to make sure other people can be happy and at peace,” Hall said. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing in my leadership qualities, it’s come from my mom.”
Why Jaren Hall chose to serve a mission
Hall had a few faith questions and said he pushed back a little on restrictions as a teenager but always knew he would serve a mission.
“At a young age, it wasn’t really a choice for us,” he said with a laugh. “My dad, him and my mom ran a very tight ship at the house.”
Kalin Hall had a rough upbringing, bouncing around from Dayton, Ohio, to Flint, Michigan, and eventually to a Las Vegas high school where he was a football star. He joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while playing junior college ball at what is now Utah Tech University.
When he moved on to play for BYU, where he was a bad boss of a running back, he met and married a gymnast named Hollie Hamilton. They have five children. All four of their boys have served missions.
“Once he found the church and was baptized, his life completely changed,” Jaren Hall said about his father. “Having seen the other side of what it’s like to not have faith in your life, to him it was a no-brainer that his kids would serve missions — obviously, we come to an age where we decide for ourselves — but he and my mom wanted to push early on that it was not a choice, that we were going to serve missions or join the military, for us to realize how important it was. It was just a matter of time until we we found out why we wanted to personally.”
Kalin Hall said he wanted his sons to have the growth opportunities that missions provide.
“I just thought for my boys, it would give them an opportunity to grow, to become selfless, to give more to others than themselves, and in the long run it would help them to become better men,” he said.
Jaren Hall said he recognized later in high school why he personally wanted to serve a mission. His older brother’s mission was another influence.
“He shared messages while he served that really touched my heart,” Hall said. “As I discovered my true faith for the Savior and his life and what he did for me, it was just a no-brainer that I wanted to give back as much as I could because of everything that I’d been given,” he said. “There was never any question about a mission for me. It was one good thing after another to kind of confirm that it’s something I should do. And it’s something that eventually became something I wanted to do.”
He entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo on June 8, 2016, two weeks after he graduated from Spanish Fork’s Maple Mountain High School.
Three weeks later, he was transferred to the California Roseville Mission.
What Hall’s mission was like
Missions generally do little to help college athletes improve their game.
“They (don’t) go on a mission to Gold’s Gym, I can tell you that,” Sitake told five other college coaches during an episode of “The Film Room” on ESPNews in 2017.
“Those guys are riding bicycles and eating ramen noodles for two years,” Sitake said. “If it was a great system to develop athletes, Alabama would be doing it. And not one of their guys is going on a mission. Case closed.”
Hall’s mission was typical in some ways, and atypical in others. He woke up early, exercised for half an hour and studied the scriptures personally and with his companion. They planned the day together. Then they worked for about 10 hours, providing service or teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in homes or taking the message door to door.
Hall said he grew up loving to watch TV and read action-fighting books as well as playing football, basketball and baseball through high school. He attended years of Latter-day Saint seminary classes in high school, but the intense focus on scripture study on a mission was still an adjustment.
“I learned very quickly that I loved it,” he said. “There’s days now where I wish I could just do that all day, because it’s fun to learn stuff, it’s fun to learn new lessons on your own in the scriptures and receive revelation for yourself. When you actually experience it, it’s pretty special to know that you can have that relationship with your Heavenly Father, and with your Savior. I still love finding time for it even though I’m busy. Some days, I don’t do it. I’m not the best, but it’s always a bright spot of my day when I can.”
He served in Lincoln, Citrus Heights, Oroville, Chico and Rocklin.
Hall’s final area of the mission required him to ride a bicycle everywhere, every day. It was a fortunate turn prior to the conclusion of his mission. When he returned home on May 1, 2018, he was in better shape than most who return from the mission field.
The benefits of Hall’s mission
Hall thinks about his mission often.
“It’s kind of interesting,” he said. “It’s like when you read the scriptures, every time you go back to read the book, you find something different. I feel like every time I think about my mission, a different person comes to mind or a different experience, whether it was teaching or with service.”
He thinks the different recollections may reflect where he is in his life when he looks back.
His mission cemented the leadership lessons his parents taught and added new ones, including many he learned from scripture.
“I think having compassion for people, and loving, makes the best leader,” he said. “Love and compassion has always been a big part of my leadership and how I approach trying to be a leader and a good friend and good husband.”
Kalin Hall said it is impossible to measure how much a mission helped his son develop.
It was nothing short of a blessed 2 years as the Lords servant. I’m thankful for the countless experiences that have positively impacted my life and the lifelong relationships that have been formed with the people of Northern California. Good to be back with my Eternal Crew ✊🏽 pic.twitter.com/lt5XZIvJKh— Jaren Hall (@jarenhall3) May 12, 2018
“I don’t know if you can weigh it,” he said. “I just see the growth. I see where the voids that he may have had, where before he may have lacked confidence a little bit, have been filled. I see a greater strength, a greater level of independence, a greater level of faith, a greater level of understanding, a greater level of persistence. I mean, there’s just so many benefits that I personally see to his path.”
Last month, Hall returned to Northern California for BYU’s final regular season game at Stanford, about a two-hour drive from his mission area. BYU prevailed over Stanford and its star quarterback, former Latter-day Saint missionary and NFL prospect Tanner McKee. After the game, about 100 people from his mission surrounded Hall on the field.
Kalin Hall soaked in the moment for what it said about his son.
“One of them recognized me and said, ‘Brother Hall, I just want to tell you that your son was a phenomenal missionary. We love him. We appreciated his faith, his hard work, his love of all of us.’
“All of those people were there — it wasn’t necessarily because of that dadgum football game, it was because of the type of missionary and selfless leader that Jaren was. For me, that picture right there is going to stick out beyond anything he will ever do in this game. It was so awesome. It was the best and the most long-lasting memory that I’m gonna have. That just said it all for me, that right there. They came to see him because of his mission and the type of person that he was.”
“That was so awesome to see. To heck with the game. That’s really cool.”
Does Hall have a future in the NFL?
Hall loves football and thrives on competition. He and his wife Breanna, a former college soccer player, compete at everything, including for the attention of their 1-year-old daughter, Jayda.
“Make no mistake about it, he’s a cold-blooded competitor,” BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick told The Athletic. “He’s a killer on the field. He’ll rip your heart out if he gets a chance.”
Hall struggled at times on his mission because he said he is a “semi-perfectionist at heart,” because many days weren’t perfect. He learned that repentance filled the gap between his offering and the ideal, that he could do his best and move forward.
“As I got a little more mature on my mission, I understood what the importance of repentance is, and that it’s not just for people you teach, but it’s for you as a missionary,” he said.
Is he really just a semi-perfectionist?
“Oh, perfectionist,” he conceded with a laugh. “I am. I like to do things the right way. I like to ask a lot of questions, and my parents did not like giving answers. They liked teaching us to find answers ourselves. That would drive me nuts as a kid. It still does to this day. I like to know how to do stuff perfectly. I wanna know what to do and go do it.”
It shows in his play. Hall is stingy with the ball. This year, he threw 31 touchdown passes with just six interceptions. His career pass efficiency rating (157.81) places him behind only Zach Wilson, Ty Detmer and Steve Sarkisian on BYU’s all-time list, and just ahead of Jim McMahon, according to CougarStats.com.
“Jaren is an analytical guy with a high IQ,” Kalin Hall said. “He likes to learn it before he tries it. He likes studying things and figuring things out.”
Jaren Hall could become the best former missionary ever to play quarterback. Pro Football Focus considers him the fourth best quarterback prospect in next April’s NFL draft — if he chooses to forego his senior year at BYU and turn pro.
The highest-drafted missionary quarterback in history is one of Hall’s mentors, John Beck, who the Miami Dolphins selected in the second round (40th overall) of the 2007 draft. Beck now develops quarterbacks alongside guru Tom House, and has worked with Hall, Tom Brady, Justin Fields, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees and more.
Beck has done more than train Hall. They’ve recently talked about what it’s like to be a Latter-day Saint man and leader in an NFL locker room.
“You’ve got to have a good balance,” Hall said. “The NFL, it’s your job, and it’s a lot of people’s jobs. That’s how they provide for their families. It’s a very serious thing, and you’ve got to take it very seriously. This applies especially to quarterbacks. You’ve got to be involved with everybody on your team. You’re looked to as a leader, so you’ve got to know people personally on your team at every position. You gotta be someone that other people can speak to and someone they can trust.
“In a league of people that come from all different walks of life, guys are all going to be very different,” he said. “As a Latter-day Saint, obviously, we live a very different lifestyle than most people around us, so it’s finding a way to comfortably be yourself but also being someone that people who may not think the same way or live the same way, that they can respect you and that you can be comfortable being around other people, too.”
Some NFL evaluators have questioned the value proposition of athletes who spent two years away from the game for missions. They generally receive high marks as leaders, in part because of their mission experiences, but some ding them for being older — Hall will turn 25 in March — which can mean they have less remaining room for development.
BYU coaches and fans once questioned the ceiling of returned missionary quarterbacks, too, even as other former missionaries thrived at every other position in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Former missionaries who started at quarterback for the Cougars were good but not superstars.
The questions at BYU ended decisively with Brandon Doman, an explosive passer and runner who won his first 14 games as BYU’s starter in late 2000 and 2001. The San Francisco 49ers took Doman in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL draft. Beck took over in 2003 and threw for 11,021 yards at BYU. He was followed by more quarterbacks who stepped away for missionary service and returned to star for their teams, especially Max Hall and Taysom Hill.
Those two weren’t drafted, but Max Hall (one) and Hill (seven) are the only missionary quarterbacks who have won an NFL game.
Hill, by the way, was 26 when he went undrafted in 2017, largely because of his history of injuries. Now 32, he has maintained his athleticism through six seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Nicknamed “Slash+” by broadcaster Al Michaels, Hill has been a quarterback/running back/wide receiver/tight end/kick returner/punt returner while also making tackles on punt and kick coverage teams. He threw a touchdown pass last Sunday.
At least one NFL team will select a former missionary quarterback in the 2023 draft, because Stanford’s McKee is also a highly rated prospect. Hall would make it two in one draft, if he decides to turn pro.
Whatever he decides, Christ will be at the center.
“As a missionary, obviously, the Lord is right in the middle and every crazy day works out. You find the silver lining in everything you do,” he said. “So I learned that on my mission.”
Jaren and Breanna Hall, who married Dec. 9, 2019, in the Mount Timpanogos Temple, work toward that goal in their family, he said. Faith-football balance looks the same.
“With football, when I feel like I’ve put my time into my studies throughout the week, and I feel like I’ve been saying my prayers and doing that stuff, I feel like my mind can be at ease with the game plan stuff I’m doing,” Hall said.
“As long as I studied my film, and did everything I needed to do, I know I took care of the time I need to spend with the Lord, and now it’s time to go play ball, and I can be comfortable.
For Hall, faith requires action.
“I just keep the faith that whatever happens in this life, or whatever happens in the world around us, as long as I’m actively trying to be a good person, and don’t just sit back and let stuff happen, per se, I can have peace.”