BY JACK KIZER | Ball State Sports Link
Many freshmen are 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, but how many have 35 receptions, 431 yards and two touchdowns through five games of Division I football?
The answer is one – Ball State Wide Receiver Justin Hall.
He’s proof that age and size don’t always influence production on the field. Hall also proves age is just a number when it comes to confidence.
“I always knew in my heart that I could definitely come in and turn this program around, ” Cosby said. “There were a lot of veterans when I came. Because of Corey (Lacanaria) and (Jordan) Hogue’s two injuries, I stepped up early and had to grow up really fast. Playing not just one, but all of the receiver positions forced me to get all of the play calls down and spend extra time in the film room.”
Turning the program around is a big reason why Hall was recruited heavily out of Alexander High School in Douglasville, Georgia.
His high school accolades include 987 yards and 16 all-purpose touchdowns as a senior, 2016 Region 6A Player of the Year and two-time first team all-state honoree. Hall has taken success with him to Muncie, as he currently leads all freshman in the nation in receptions and receiving yards.
Here’s how the country’s top young receiver gets Dialed In.
Friday, September 29th
Justin Hall boards the offensive team bus waiting in the parking lot of Scheumann Stadium at 12 p.m. The team has just finished walk-throughs, and is all set to travel to Western Michigan University for its Mid-American Conference opener.
As he takes a seat next to freshman running back Caleb Huntley, he begins to consume a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, chips, cookie and a Gatorade. While others keep to themselves, Hall enjoys interacting with his teammates.
“I’m definitely a social guy. I can’t get pumped up just by myself. I need my teammates there and I try to get them pumped up as well.”
One way Hall releases his inner social butterfly is freestyle rapping with Huntley.
“Caleb’s always my hype man,” Hall said. “So whenever he gets to rapping, I have to come in and spit some.”
Following the hour long freestyle session, Hall plugs in his headphones and listens to Master Sensei by Hoodrich Pablo Juan and other music from the rising Atlanta rapper. His music gets him hyped, but Hall also uses his time to prepare.
“I study on the bus,” Hall said. “I ask coach for the call sheet, I sit there and I visualize every play in my head.”
After listening to music, studying his preparation and occasionally glancing up at American Sniper playing on the movie screen, Hall decides to conclude his multi-tasking and take a nap.
Sleep guides Hall through the rest of the ride, and he wakes up just before the bus arrives at the hotel around 4 p.m.
He exits the bus, grabs his bags and heads up to his room with senior wide receiver Jordan Hogue. After settling in, Hall and the rest of the freshmen are the last group to go stretch with Strength and Conditioning Coach Ben Armer.
His group then is released to eat dinner, where Hall fills his plate with steak, chicken, broccoli, green beans and an apple. He wipes his plate clean and has some free time before a positional and players meeting later that night.
While Hogue works on homework in their room, Hall gives him some space and finds his way over to Huntley’s room. There, they relax, watch Friends, Family Guy, ESPN and talk about the impending game.
The time for the positional meeting with Wide Receivers Coach Alex Bailey comes around, where he makes sure all the players are comfortable with their assignments and they discuss the first 10 plays of the game they plan to run. The players-only meeting follows, where Hall and others have the opportunity to speak up.
“I definitely talk every game,” Hall said. “It’s not always on topic, but I always feel I pump the team up and get them hyped. Whatever is on my mind, I’m going to say it.”
After the meetings finish up at approximately 10 p.m., Hall returns to Huntley’s room with a host of other freshmen to socialize. Senior running back Darian Green briefly stops by to give all of the “little guys” a hard time for hanging out together.
Unity, however, is something Hall and the freshmen class pride themselves on, dating back to the summer.
“Running, competing, getting bigger and better together over the summer; we also had a couple of ‘hell’ sessions too,” Hall said. “We had to all get in a line, hold each other’s ankles and roll about 300 yards. Then we had to do up-downs every five yards on the way back.
“It was tough, but it all brought us together getting ready for the season. There’s also a lot of guys from the Atlanta area, which just brought us closer too.”
The tight-knit group hangs out for an hour before Hall elects to go back to his room for some sleep at 11:30. Knowing that he trusts himself and his teammates, he goes to bed confident and relaxed.
Saturday, September 30th
Game day. Hall arises at 9:30 a.m. to make sure he’s ready for breakfast at 10. Once there, he finds a table with the rest of the wide receivers and eats a carb-filled plate of eggs, hash browns, pancakes and pasta.
To entertain themselves, the receivers take turns saying lines from movies while the others have to guess what movie they’re from. While the upperclassmen like to quote The Waterboy, Hall throws in a few quotes from Friday featuring Ice Cube.
Once the movie trivia has subsided, Hall goes back up to his room for an hour to relax and hydrate more. A meeting with the special teams coaches and players ensues, where they go over their coverages and what Western Michigan might run that they haven’t before.
The entire offense then gathers to go over a test the players took the previous day involving play calls and assignments. Following a condensed walk-through, the final team activity in the hotel, Hall returns to his room to get in an hour nap.
After he wakes up, he grabs a purple Gatorade and Pedialyte for hydration to prevent cramping during the fast-approaching game.
Just before 3:45 p.m, it’s time to walk down to the buses for the 10-minute drive to Western Michigan’s Waldo Stadium. The team arrives around 4 p.m., and Hall immediately heads for the line in the locker room to get his wrists and ankles taped — as do many other teammates. He uses his 15-minute wait in line to listen to more Hoodrich Pablo. Hall finally reaches the front, gets taped and writes the same three things on his wrists that he does every week.
“I write ‘sticks’, ‘404’, and ‘Annie Pearl’. That’s my grandma’s name, 404 is my area code and I write ‘sticks’ because I’m just sticks. That was my nickname in high school because I was number 11 and 11 is like two sticks. Now they call me sticks plus one because I’m number 12.”
After completing his ritual, slips into a new shirt, shorts, gloves and cleats and runs out onto the field with Huntley.
As they both listen to more Hoodrich Pablo, they throw a football back and forth just to get loose. Eventually, Hall goes over to the quarterback line and catches a few balls from them.
Once he runs back inside the locker room, it’s a quick turnaround as he has to put his equipment on and go out with the special teams unit within 10 minutes.
After receiving some kicks in the new atmosphere, Hall returns to the locker room to and has time to show off his moves to the tune of Chief Keef and Hoodrich Pablo.
“On the offensive side we don’t have a lot of dancers, but I tend to dance by myself. Me, Caleb, Keidren and the whole receiving core … we’ve got the sauce.”
The dancing eventually subsides and team warmups roll around. After a lengthy stretching session, Hall and the receivers run their version of ‘Pat-n-Go’, making a move to get past a defender and catching a ball out of a route. He proceeds to run more routes in different drills until it’s time to go back to the locker room once more.
Hall and the team congregate around Head Coach Mike Neu for his pre-game speech.
“He says anything to get us fired up. He always has some wisdom to tell and we always pray the Lord’s Prayer.”
As they pray, Hall wears a religious gold necklace.
“I wear it because I feel like it keeps me safe. I wear it every game and during every practice. This is my day-to-day chain.”
The prayer is finished and the team takes the field. Before kickoff, Hall finds Huntley and others to perform a handshake described as an “Atlanta handshake”, involving the interlocking of fingers in a specific way.
He then has one more thing to do before game time.
“I try to find something hard to hit my head across it because these guys come out and hit hard. So, nothing is going to hit harder than a brick wall. So, I slam my head against a brick wall a couple of times with my helmet on and that gets me going.”
Hall is now ready to go out and play Mid-American Conference football.
Western Michigan 55 Ball State 3
After a fumble by Hall on the opening kickoff returned for a touchdown, it’s tough sledding for Ball State.
Still bitten by the injury bug, the Cardinals’ offense struggles to move the ball down the field. Hall’s 13 receptions for 121 yards is one of the few bright spots in the loss.
The clock hits zero and he walks back to the locker room, thinking out loud in a frustrated voice.
“I walked to the bathroom, talked to myself for about three minutes, waiting for Coach Neu to come in. I was just talking to myself about a lot … the whole game, how everything went.”
Once Coach Neu enters, he provides a different message from the scoreboard.
“He way basically just talking about being positive and that the season’s not over. He said to come back next week because we have to get to 3-3 since we’re trying to get to a bowl game. He mostly just targeted being positive.”
Hall then showers, takes an ice bath, takes ibuprofen and uses a leg machine that helps get rid of lactic acid in order to relieve the soreness caused by the game.
Throughout his physical recovery, he hydrates to prevent cramping on the ride home. Hall ultimately climbs on to the bus at approximately 11 p.m., and a quiet drive back to Muncie concludes at 2:30 a.m.
Hall’s roommate, freshman safety Bryce Cosby, drives them back to Botsford-Swinford Campus Residence Hall. Before falling asleep, he has to flip through the TV to unwind. Hall ends his day by going to sleep at 4 a.m.
Though the outcome of each game may change as well as the statistics for Hall, he maintains trust in himself and his teammates. As a freshman who leads his class nationally in receiving yards, Justin Hall is always dialed in.