Emerging from the worst of times, UVA’s Bryce Hall braced to strut his stuff to NFL

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall has battled back from an ankle injury and is ready for his shot at playing professionally (Photo by John Markon).

It has been a long haul for Bryce Hall.

We all saw Virginia’s lockdown cornerback go down in a heap, writhing in pain on the night of Oct. 11 at Miami as Wahoo Nation held its collective breath. Didn’t look good, as Hall was carted off the field and would not return. His season ended on the same turf that his UVA teammates would return to on New Year’s to face Florida in the Orange Bowl.

The diagnosis: broken fibula, torn deltoid ligament, dislocated ankle. He’s still on the mend, but getting closer to 100 percent.

“If Pro Day were today, would I be able to go full speed?” Hall said, repeating a reporter’s question on Tuesday. “As of now, no. I wouldn’t step on the field unless I was 100 percent.

“This has been like my second week really, just starting to get back into drills and doing things at my own pace. April 8th? I’m optimistic so I think I’m progressing at a high enough pace that it would be like a game-time decision, but I wouldn’t do it unless I was 100 percent, and right now that’s not where I am.”

The April 8th reference was the scheduled date for UVA’s Pro Day, which as all others, has been cancelled due to the nation’s battle with coronavirus.

While he was invited to and attended the NFL Combine, he did not work out. Instead, he soaked up the atmosphere, learned a lot, was examined over and over again, and interviewed by myriad of teams.

Heading in to that whirlwind, Hall got some advice from fellow secondary mate Juan Thornhill, who just finished his rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Basically he said ‘Be you,’” Hall said of Thornhill. “We have a good relationship. Obviously we played together and have chemistry, and he just tells me to be me and who I am is what they want to see, and I don’t really have to be anything other than myself.

“So that’s what I’ve tried to do during this process, especially just be authentic, be real, and I think that’s where teams have really just liked me.”

Hall said he had lots of conversations with scouts, coaches and GMs while at the combine and he felt things went well. He had a couple of meetings before the virus began to spread, and liked the feedback he received.

“They liked my film and just who I was,” Hall said. “It was basically pretty hectic but it was a good experience. I enjoyed it. It was late nights and early mornings, a lot of interviews, a lot of medical tests, and a lot of just getting physicals, doctors and stuff like that just check [his ankle] out.”

Because he wasn’t competing in the drills, he found other diversions, including listening to former NFL star Rod Woodson, a Hall of Famer, who shared his experiences and wisdom as a defensive back, how he got to Canton. Hall also took note of how media works and how the coaches and GMs think, and what goes into their decisions.

He has had one meeting with an NFL coach on “FaceTime,” something that has been useful in this bizarre time with limited movement due to the virus.

The doctors and physical-therapy personnel at the combine told him they believed he would be 100 percent by the time training camp comes around this summer. Hall has started to run, perform some cutting on his ankle, and jumping, which has left him encouraged.

“I think then it just becomes more about getting used to the the feeling and just kind of getting used to moving again, and then everything else comes with that,” the former Wahoo said.

He’s presently in Pensacola, Fla., where he did his pre-combine and post-combine training and rehab. Hall will return to Charlottesville at the end of this week. With most everything shut down, he said he’s lucky to still be able to get some work in.

“I think one of the things this [pandemic] has allowed us to do more is to just have more time, and I think I’ve been trying to invest in myself mentally,” Hall said.

“I like to watch a lot of little motivational clips — Steve Harvey, a lot of his things — I’ve been watching a lot of those. Little bits of motivation that really kind of put things in perspective and help you to achieve greatness. I’m watching things to try and feed my mind and invest in good things, and just keeping in touch with the family and trying to stay positive and stay prayered up out here in the midst of all the craziness.”

The fact that the coronavirus has stopped the country on so many levels, most college players will not have opportunities to make one final impression on NFL scouts and personnel due to the cancellations. Still, Hall believes his body of work is enough.

“A lot of scouts and who I’ve been hearing from (including several coaches), they realize the status I’m at, so they’ve been really just paying attention to my film, going over my film a lot,” Hall said. “I feel like they’ve had a chance to really get to know me and know what I’m about. I think at the end of the day, the film speaks the most, and so right now I’m allowing that to just kind of speak for itself and really just focusing on controlling what I can control.

“All that other stuff isn’t in my hands,” he said. “Yeah, it would’ve been nice to be able to show them something, but at the same time I’m still confident in what they know and what they’re looking for in me.”

While it was a challenging time to watch his team falter at Miami and two weeks later at Louisville, then sit out the season as the Cavaliers got on a roll and won the ACC Coastal Division title, his time on the sideline didn’t go to waste.

Knowing Hall, you really didn’t expect him to not use the time to his advantage.

“I learned so much, honestly,” Hall said. “For example, coaches always harp on, ‘You’re going to play how you practice,’ and so being a player, being in practice, you kind of hear it and you see where they’re coming from. I really took note of that from being on the sideline because it was really clear how we played was translated from how we practiced.”

Hall basically took on the role of a coach after his injury, so when he was in the meeting rooms with coaches and fellow players, he saw things from a different perspective. In those meetings and while watching film, he more clearly understood game preparation.

“We’d go out to practice and you could see different guys and how they would go through the walk-throughs, and then during practice how they would finish plays,” Hall said. “Evidence of that was during [the Virginia Tech] week. There was just a different focus and attention to detail that just kind of stood out, and I think that really translated on the field.

“That’s one of the things I took away, was really how important it is to prepare each week and how that really does translate in the game, so now I have a different perspective on really taking practice more seriously than I have in the past before, but knowing how that really translates.”

Thornhill would be impressed, as certainly numerous NFL coaches and GMs have been. It’s just Bryce Hall being Bryce Hall, and that should be good enough for anyone.

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