Days Like This: Volume 3
There’s something special about Darren Hall. His unlikely combination of explosive talent, deep passion for the game and a humble demeanor make Darren captivating both on and off the field. In this series, Wilson.com Managing Editor Liz Ziner sits down with Darren and his father, lifelong mentor and coach, Art Hall, to get their firsthand accounts of D’s journey up to and through the NFL draft. In this volume, Liz checks in with Darren and Art for one last time before the draft, this time joined by @Dayonefb’s Lance Callihan.
For most people approaching a career-defining event, a certain degree of nervousness is to be expected. But not for Darren Hall. Mere days before the NFL draft that will determine not only the first step in his Pro Football career but also where in the country he will be living, Darren is completely calm.
“I’m not really getting too ahead of myself. I know the day is going to come, and when it comes it’s going to be really exciting. It’s a day I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” he says, smiling. “However, I’m just [focusing on] prayer and just making sure that I live in the moment and make the best of it, get better every day, and get closer to my dreams. It’s been a good process for me.”
Darren’s father Art is palpably excited for his son, but also focusing on staying in the moment.
“The way I’m staying in the moment is really reflecting on things that we’d discussed when he was little,” says Art.
Those discussions shaped Darren’s mentality and his skills—from learning how to shake off a bad game to putting in long hours of training, to being a source of inspiration for his teammates and community.
“Seeing it all manifest and play out is helping me [because it shows] if you really want to obtain and achieve something, no one can stop you but you, right? So, those memories are helping me every day. I’ll just remember something that was said or something we discussed when he was little, and it’ll just pop up. As we get closer there are more of those moments.”
One such moment came last week when Darren’s grandmother sent a photo of a collage Darren had made when he was eight or nine years old. The collage featured pictures of his sisters, photos of Darren from his second year playing youth football, and at the bottom, he had written: “PRAYER + FOOTBALL = $$ HALL ENTERPRISE.”
Even as a young kid, Darren’s focus was clear and he never deviated from his path. But there were no shortcuts along that path; it wasn’t magic. Darren had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way.
“I look back at when Darren was younger, and there were some things socially that he didn’t mind exchanging for the workouts, the long hours of working out, and the short hours of resting,” says Art. “Or not hanging out with certain friends when he could be film studying, school studying, or working on his craft. You know, he didn’t mind that exchange.”
Wisdom beyond his years kept Darren confident that his sacrifices were going to come to fruition. And they’re about to do just that in the NFL Draft.
“We’re in the final stretch here. I can’t tell you what those three days are going to be like, but we’re definitely prepared for whatever as a family,” says Art. “We’ve talked and discussed the probability of just about every scenario, so we’re going in with full expectation, but we’re not going to be moved by anything. But we’re excited. We’re very excited.”
There are plenty of reasons for the Hall family to be excited. In the wake of Darren’s stellar Pro Day performance, he’s caught the eye of more scouts and had some great meetings. But that also means he’s been subject to more scrutiny from the broader fan community.
“Some of the things I’ve been hearing or reading up about myself—it really varies,” says Darren. I look into it, but I don’t really put too much thought into it, just knowing that most of the people talking about this aren’t really the scouts. Mostly they’re just fans who are watching film and trying to be scouts, per se, for themselves. But in talks with teams, and the conversations I’ve had, I feel very good about my position and when and where I could land. I’m just letting God do His thing and taking it day by day.”
As for Draft Day itself, plans look a little different than they may have in a pre-Covid world. The Halls have been trying to figure out the best way to safely celebrate this momentous occasion, and they settled on something everyone feels good about.
“We’re going to be watching the Draft in Vegas,” says Darren. “ And it’s crazy, because that Sunday is my birthday, so it’s gonna be just like a whole big celebration. Immediate family is going to be there, of course. The first day, they’re going to be watching the draft with me.”
More of Darren’s friends and friends of the family will come out Friday through Sunday to watch the draft with the Halls.
“I won’t have too many people around me at that time—just the people that know the situation, and know how it goes—just constant support. So, we’ll be out there in Vegas for a weekend, just having fun and enjoying ourselves and taking it day by day, and letting the times come to us, and waiting up for a phone call.”
In Volume Two, Art explained that he had waited in the car while Darren ran his 40 at Pro Day. As for whether he’ll be around when the call comes in...
“I can’t say yes or no,” says Art. “Here’s the thing about me: even when he was playing on Saturday—we’d have family, fellowship, and food downstairs—I’m upstairs in my room watching the game because I have to create a space that makes me comfortable. But, you know, I’m gonna try! I’m gonna try. We’ll be in a nice situation up in Vegas, so if I needed to dip off. But, I think for this one Liz, I’m going to give it my best shot to hang out, because this is big.”
“It’s not every day you formulate the plan, and you watch it, step by step, come together. Throughout the sacrifices and the different things that Darren had to endure—and still maintaining and pushing through. I think I owe him this one. I’m gonna be amongst everybody and do what I need to do. It’s easy to say now!”
What does Darren plan to do with his first professional paycheck? “Put it in the bank!” says Darren. A characteristically responsible, albeit uncommon, response from NFL prospects.
“I might treat myself, just a little bit,” says Darren. “But most of it, or the majority of it, is going to be put away. I’m going to try to live off endorsements with small things and just try to keep my expenses real low. Money doesn’t last forever. Money comes and goes—just be smart with it.”
Darren has heard the cautionary tales of NFL players partying every weekend and recklessly spending all of their money. But reckless has never been Darren’s style. Even the one indulgence he’s thought about purchasing with his signing bonus, a car, comes with a qualification.
“I want to keep the payments low, nothing crazy,” says Darren. “But [I want to get] something that’s nice and looks really nice.”
The community excitement around Darren and the draft is fervent, which has created a great opportunity for the Ball By Faith Foundation to reach even more young athletes.
“With Darren having an opportunity to trailblaze and kind of lead the way for the younger guys, it’s like, ‘Okay, he did it, so we can do it too,’” says Art.
The foundation will host several camps this summer with Darren in attendance whenever he’s home. Art and Darren are excited to show the behind-the-scenes story of Darren’s come-up.
“If you can believe it and put work into it you can achieve it,” says Art. “And that’s gotta be the message that we push to the young people, not shooting their goals down, but giving them a keen insight that, ‘You’re gonna have to buckle down, and, you know, it’s gonna cost you something. That’s gotta be the narrative we’re pushing.”
But now, with his whole community, his teammates, coaches and trainers all rallying behind him, Darren is living proof that the cost is worth the reward.
“[His coaches and trainers] are using his story as well, to share with the young people that it’s not always going to be what you think it is, but you’ve just gotta persevere and keep going.”
Liz will check in with Darren and Art after the draft to talk about how it all shook out.
WILSON FAN QUESTIONS
@Dayonefb’s Lance Callihan, Louisiana native and former Stanford Defensive Lineman, sat down with Darren and Art (via Zoom) and asked a few questions from fans.
Lance: My first question is: what is the most interesting question a coach or scout has asked you during this process?
Darren: The most interesting question that I’ve been asked by a coach, I would say… dang. I feel like every conversation that I’ve had with a coach or a coaching staff or any scout or anything has been the same. They start by asking me about my family and my home life. They ask me why I chose San Diego State, why I chose to come out early. They’re very, very repetitive.
Like, this same exact combo, just with different people. I wanna say what’s been the most interesting question probably—I mean, each team has been asking me how I’ve been in trouble off the field or have I been arrested—just checking the boxes. But I don’t know if there’s been a most interesting question, really. Each convo has been genuine; however, they’re all the same. But it’s just that you can feel the genuineness—I don’t know if that’s a word—throughout the conversation.
Lance: Awesome. What are the major differences between being recruited as a D1 prospect versus an NFL prospect?
Darren: I would say the biggest difference would be taking it more seriously and treating it closer to, like, a profession. I think in high school, it’s a lot more fun than work. You can get away with just being the best athlete or naturally gifted in high school, but that’s not really possible in college. There are a lot of good players from around the country that are working hard and watching film and if you’re not doing those things and trying to get better every day, even in the offseason, you’re gonna fall behind. So, just taking every day as seriously as the last day and getting better every day. At least doing something to better yourself and taking the time to actually watch film and study defenses and learn offenses and why they like to run these plays or certain playbooks or certain coaching styles, and just become a student of the game really. Because I feel like in high school you could just get away with certain things, and in college, you couldn’t.
Lance: Was there ever a moment in your life that made you said to yourself, “I have to make it in the NFL”?
Darren: I’ve never put pressure on myself to go out there and make it. However, I always knew that this is something I wanted to do, and it was something that I was capable of. I never felt like, “Oh my gosh, I have to do this,” because even if I wasn’t doing this, whatever I was doing in life, I would be successful. So, I mean, it’s just been a dream of mine, and being able to obtain this dream and make it a reality is something special to me; however, I never have been like hell-bent, or so, like, “ugh”, because I knew that even if things didn’t work out, I have other avenues in life that would work out for me.
Lance: That’s awesome, it’s always great to have options. So, if you could tell Young Darren one thing you didn’t know then, but you know now, what would that be?
Darren: One thing that I didn’t know then that I know now… I would tell myself to run track. The benefits it has in playing football and being able to run down the field—and constantly run—let me see how I could put this… For one, running track and competing kind of does something to you mentally; however, just the benefits it has that would translate to the football field, just being able to run and have a perfect cycle of motion, and be able to keep that the whole time running down the field. Because a lot of people, as they’re running, they get irregular—their steps get irregular, which causes them to slow down, as opposed to the people who can just keep the same track, just keep running. So, just running track. And to take the weights a little more seriously when I was younger. I kind of just benefited off of being a super good athlete until college, and I got to college and became a weight head, really. So, I just had to make sure and change that. So, just taking the weights seriously as a young kid and running track.
Lance: Awesome. Well, I appreciate you, Darren, answering those questions. Art, I had one question for you: what would your advice be to parents who are raising kids with big dreams?
Art: My advice to parents who are raising kids who have big dreams is to support them. The importance of support goes such a long way. And there are certain things the kids will not be able to do on their own. So, if the appropriate support is not in place, that can damper the fire, or the flame, of the youngster that has these big dreams. And being transparent, one thing that stuck out to me with my son is that I didn’t have to force him to go work out, right. You know, I’ve coached football twenty years, I deal with a lot of young kids in the community out here, and what I am seeing now is that a lot of parents are chasing the kids down to—“Hey, did you work out today?” or pulling their arm and leg to get them to work out. So, my advice also would be: make sure that it’s really the kid’s dream. Because sometimes, we as parents can impose our dream onto our kids.
And the kid could be an athlete—he could be an athlete, she could be a singer or dancer—but if the drive and the focus are not there, maybe we should shift and really find where that drive and focus lies for them, so that way we’re not wasting time. That’s where their attention is going to be. That’s where you’ll find them really excited to do what it is they want to do.
Again, one of my favorite sayings is that you have two kind of players: you have an athlete that plays football, and then you have an athletic football player. The athlete that plays football—he’s an athlete, so he can play football, baseball, basketball, soccer—whatever the case may be. But he’s really just liking playing all those sports. But an athletic football player, he’s the football player that loves the game, that happens to be athletic. And this was how we were able to always kind of pinpoint who we were going up against. If he was going to be somebody we were concerned with, that’s that athletic football player. Because that athlete that plays football—“Oh, football season’s over, I’m just going to transition over to baseball, basketball”, or whatever the case may be. But that athletic football player—that’s a twelve-month type of individual who’s working on his craft, getting better, because he has all his focus right there. You know, we’re in a day and time where people kind of frown upon the one-sport athlete. And, I mean, it’s whatever floats your boat. If this kid is serious about that one sport, let him be. Just because there’s a sport in every season doesn’t mean the kid has to translate to every sport, every season.
And, you know, that question, Lance, I get from a lot of parents in regard to what they could do. And again, just being transparent and making sure you’re available there for support. Emotionally more than anything. Because the kid is already getting it from the coach. He knows or she knows when she’s had a bad game. We don’t need to talk about a bad game on the way home from the game, right? That’s just adding insult to injury. Just having wisdom and nurturing your kid through the whole process, because you know your kid better than anyone. So, just being in tune and being available for them emotionally and letting them know that it’s always a safe place when they come to you with anything, and supporting their dreams—like really, really, really support it. And being honest, right?
Like, if the kid can’t play—again being prepared to find out what they’re good at and if it has to shift directions, we shift directions, but the support has to stay the same. That’s the number one thing is supporting the kid.
Lance: That’s an awesome answer. Recently I was watching a video with a former NBA player, and he was talking about how parents are raising kids who want to go to the NBA, they wanna go to the NFL, and they usually tell them, “You need to worry about school.” And how many people actually make it… And one thing he said was, “It’s really about the gas in that dream. It’s not necessarily lying to them, but it’s more, like, “Hey, you wanna do this—this is what you need to do.” Saying like, “Hey, you know, the chances of you making it isn’t likely.” So, yeah, just loved your answer and appreciate you and your work.
Art: Can I reiterate really quick though, just to push back?
My cup is always half full, Lance, right? And when we talk percentages—and this is another thing I share with parents—we get these percentages only when we deal with lofty goals or a kid that’s willing to step outside the box. But in actuality, those percentages apply to any job across the board, right? We hear the one percent in the NFL, or two percent here, or whatever the case may be. But we never hear the one percent or the two percent when you have a Target opening. There are four positions available, and there are a hundred people applying for that job at Target. Folks don’t talk about the percentage there. So, my whole goal in—with the kids I mentor in the community—is that “You can do it. It’s not as hard as you think it is. The reality is that your focus has to be at a certain place,” right?
Certain things that are understood should be understood. Like, if we’re in high school and you know you need grades to get into college. You don’t need football to get into college. But the line that gets us there is going to be the grades. So, you have to have the grades to get into the school. So, once we get you there, it’s up to you to do what’s next. You know, Darren needed to get into college. So, while he was in high school, he took his grades very seriously. In fact, he took the grades just as seriously as he took the football field.
And if you can maximize those two places—like I told the kids now, there are two places you have to dominate in: that’s on the field and that’s in the classroom. We break every practice like that: “Where are the two places you have to dominate in?” Because if you dominate in high school—the recruiters that were coming down to see Darren, the first place they were going was to the administration office. They weren’t coming to our offices, to the coaches’ offices to see us, they wanted to see what his grades were, what his teachers were saying, all of these things. So, the narrative has to shift in regard to, “Yes, you’re a great athlete, but are you a great student?” Because if you’re a great student, you’re going to make a college coach that much less worried about you. We—I try to stay away from the percentages only because that can also shoot somebody’s goals down. Like, “Wow, you’re saying only one percent,” and if they’re not mentally strong enough, they may back out and be like, “Well, I guess I should attempt to do something different,” because those odds can be overwhelming, you know? Me and my son never talked about a percentage. We never mentioned a percentage. I judged everything that he was trying to accomplish by his work ethic. And if his work ethic was on point, we knew we had a shot. And if your work ethic is on point, it’s going to translate into the places where you’re trying to be seen. We just believed in being disciplined, being focused, and being determined. And if those three things are in place, it’s going to show when you’re training, when you’re in the classroom, and how you conduct your business off the field.
Lance: Awesome man, awesome answer. I’m fired up right now, I’m not gonna lie to y’all—I’m a little fired up right now, I’m ready for the day.
Art: This is pretty—it’s surreal. Because just witnessing—again, I’ve gotten an opportunity to spectate and that’s why—you know, my view on this blessing is: it’s not as hard as it looks. It really isn’t. I’m pretty sure Darren can attest that because he wanted to do it, he was looking forward to whatever challenges may come. But when I say it’s not as hard as it may look, it’s because he just maintained his grades through high school and college and when it was time to get on the field, he showed them why he should’ve been on the field. So, if you are working on your craft, and you believe in yourself, and that opportunity comes, you have to be ready.
And one thing I always told Darren is you’ve gotta stay away from the negative guys on the sidelines because for sure their name is not gonna get called. So, they’re walking around in a certain mode and attitude, and if you’re not careful, that can jump on you, right? So, you have to be ready when your name and number is called. And, if you’re ready, you can get on that field and never come off. And that’s what we saw. So that’s why I say it’s not hard. There are some things that I was able to [instill in] him through wisdom, that paid major dividends, so when an opportunity came, he was able to get on and go for it. But I just don’t think it’s as hard as people make it seem. Obviously, you’ve got to be able to perform, but when your number is called, just go out there and do what you do, and leave the rest up to God. And I’m seeing it firsthand, like, I’m just like, “Oh my gosh”. Even though I knew he was going to do this, watching it is just, like, “This is crazy!” It’s helped me in so many ways, like, “Wow. Dreams do come true.” They do come true.
This interview has been lightly edited for concision and readability.