Hall in the Family

This is the time of year when we await the college commitments of a number of blue chip recruits. Difficult decisions can take longer than expected, but occasionally we are surprised with a quick trigger. Kansas City defensive end Derek Hall has pulled a stunner by giving his verbal pledge to Stanford, despite never having seen the school.

Recent comments from Stanford head coach Walt Harris expressed concern over the depth and future for the Cardinal on the defensive line.  He has his top three players graduating, with the lone rising senior for 2006 moving over to the offensive line.  Given that context, Harris must have been pleased to land his second nationally ranked defensive end recruit within a span of two weeks in December.  Not quite as stealthy as the Cardinal coup that nabbed California commit Levirt Griffin, there was still little attention paid publicly to Stanford's chances at procuring a pledge from Overland Park (Kans.) defensive end/tight end Derek Hall.  The 6'5" 250-pound two-way athlete took a pair of official visits the first two weekends in December to favorite offer schools Boston College and Northwestern.  Hall was quoted afterward as being anxious to end his recruitment soon thereafter with a college commitment.

The Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst High School senior was not scheduled to take an official visit to Stanford until January 13, given the open uncertainty of his chances and timing to gain admission to the school.  Hall reports a 23 on the ACT and a 3.28 GPA at Rockhurst, which at face do not inspire favorable admissions odds on The Farm.  It was thus a surprise to both the recruit and The Bootleg when Hall learned on the eve of Christmas Eve that his Stanford application was accepted.  While a 3.3 at Rockhurst, one of the best public or private schools in the state of Missouri, is stronger than one might think, Hall believes that another part of his application ultimately earned his admission.

"It wasn't easy.  It was a battle to get in," the recruit reflects.  "I think the reason I got in is that they loved my writing.  I had some good recommendations, but I'm a really good writer."

Hall honed his craft in part as a writer for his high school's newspaper.  In fact, he attached to his application his biggest and most proud piece he wrote that probed Rockhurst's cross country program.  In an article that displayed critical thinking as well as investigative journalism, Hall tackled the question of why Rockhurst's student-athletes could not compete at a championship caliber in the distance running sport.

"I wrote the article on how our cross country team does not do the work at the championship level of our other sports, and at the level of other dominant cross country teams," Hall describes.  "They run tons of miles and work hard during the season, but not during the summer.  They are not able to build the endurance by the end of the season.  I talked to coaches at other schools, and our cross country coach is the editor of the school newspaper."

A year-round athletic commitment is something close to Hall's heart.

"I'm definitely big on off-season workouts.  That is the only reason we are successful at Rockhurst," he asserts.

Summer sweat paid big dividends for Hall this past fall, as he improved his strength, quickness and technique.  Coming out of his junior year, the Kansas City student-athlete held one scholarship offer from the Kansas Jayhawks.  By the middle of his senior season, he had added four new offers spanning the Big 10, ACC and Pac-10.  Stanford, Boston College, Northwestern and Michigan State all stepped up to the plate after seeing Hall in action during the 2005 season.

Though he saw some recruiting looks on offense, where Hall split time with a Rockhurst teammate at tight end but could also grow into an offensive tackle at the college level, the 6'5" 250-pound standout has made his name on defense.  The big-bodied end was a stalwart on the defense that allowed only 97 points through their 10-game regular season before the state playoffs.  The one interruption during a stellar regular season for the Hawklets came when Hall and Rockhurst traveled to play in Texas Stadium against Abilene (Tex.) High School.  The Eagles upended the Missouri powerhouse, 33-14, en route to a 12-1 season that ended only in late November with a playoff loss to Texas state champion Southlake Carroll.

"That was the best offense I have played against, hands down," Hall praises of Abilene.  "They had the best blocking I've seen.  They have all the fundamentals down; they do all the meticulous things right.  It was a huge battle, and we struggled."

A bigger disappointment came in the semifinals of the Missouri state playoffs, when #1-ranked Rockhurst was expected to roll to yet another championship.  Instead they were upset by a stunning 59-39 score by St. Louis (Mo.) DeSmet Jesuit High School.  The season-ending loss may have, however, been Hall's most impressive performance of the year.  He matched up against DeSmet senior offensive tackle Paddy Mullen, a three-star Notre Dame commit ranked by Scout.com as the #35 tight end in the nation.  Hall won the battle between two of the top players in the Show Me State, recording a quarterback sack and three tackles for loss.

"We play a 4-3 defense, and I would line up as a 'nine technique' if there was a tight end in the game or a 'five technique' outside the offensive tackle," Hall explains.  "I usually played on the left side, except for the certain games where they would have a big offensive tackle on the other side.  I outweighed our other defensive end by 30 or 40 pounds.  I was a lot stronger, and he was faster.  I could punish blockers a lot more."

"My strength this year was definitely shutting down the outside run on my side and tackling runners - stopping the run on my side and making plays.  I was able to change what other teams.  A lot of times teams did not run to my side in games," he continues.  "I definitely need to work on my pass rushing, which will come as I work on my speed this off-season.  I can get a better pass rush and get my hands quicker."

Hall finished his senior season with 50 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.  He was named First Team All-District, First Team All-State and also First Team All-Metro for the greater Kansas City area on both sides of the state line.

Stanford decided after evaluating Hall's senior film that they wanted him on The Farm, but the odds were long at landing him as he eyed a December decision.  The Kansas City standout has never set foot on the Stanford campus, which left little to no chance of his making a Cardinal commitment in 2005.  Northwestern and Boston College were instead the favorites, until Stanford assistant coach Nate Hackett came for an in-home visit with Hall.  The Rockhurst recruit says had no thoughts of making a commitment to Stanford in December, without having ever seen the school, until the Card's recruiting coordinator and Kansas City recruiter sat down with him.

"I really never thought I would do it," Hall says of his blind commitment.  "It was only one visit, and he made it really good.  Coach Hackett came out and visited and showed me everything about the school.  I talked with my family after that and we decided that if I could get in, I could not pass up that opportunity."

Later that month, the news reached Overland Park that Hall had been admitted to Stanford.  With the stage set by Hackett's in-home visit, the three-star defensive end recruit made a Pac-10 pledge.

"They told me I got into the school that Friday, and I committed that day," Hall recalls.  "I weighed my options and just could not pass up that opportunity.  Stanford is such a great opportunity, which can benefit me for the rest of my life."

Ranked #72 among the nation's best defensive ends in the 2006 class by Scout.com, Hall helps boost the future of Stanford's defense.  He is the Card's 10th public scholarship commit this year and the third defensive line commit in this class, though he has the frame and agility that could also project on offense.  Hall will additionally be the second MoKans Cardinal signed in the last two years, following 2005 Pembroke Hill defensive end (turned fullback) Ben Ladner.  Prior to this pair, the last Stanford player from the area was St. Louis standout Craig Albrecht, who also played on the defensive line.

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