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Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo, File

Draft pick or not, BYU QB Jaren Hall enjoys juggling spring ball with baseball

By Sean Walker, KSL.com | Posted - Feb 13th, 2019 @ 9:03am



PROVO — Let’s get one thing out of the way: Jaren Hall is not Kyler Murray.

But the comparisons came almost naturally between the BYU quarterback and Oklahoma's Heisman Trophy winner who is currently trying to eschew a contract with the Oakland Athletics in favor of the NFL Draft.

That’s probably because BYU doesn’t produce a lot of dual-sport athletes, and certainly fewer two-sport standouts that stick with multiple sports. Current tight end Matt Bushman came to BYU as a baseball player, but he’s since given up the diamond in favor of pursuing the gridiron. The same went for Corbin Kaufusi, a basketball player both in high school and college who eventually left the hardwood and is currently preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft.

But there’s something different about Jaren Hall.

When word first leaked out that Hall was trying to make a move to baseball (while also maintaining his football eligibility and scholarship), BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood initially had one foot hovering over the break while giving the engine a test drive.

Yes, Hall was with the team, he confirmed back in January; but it was strictly a trial basis. Sort of a "wait and see" kind of moment.

He's waited.

And now, he sees.

"From day one, he squared the ball up and proved that if he gets a lot of at-bats, he could be a starter for us. He’s been that good and that refined," Littlewood said of Hall. "He's got a ways to go, but we’re really, really excited about what he brings to the table."

It’s not out of the question, for those who remember his background. Hall was a three-sport standout at Maple Mountain High School, excelling in football, basketball and baseball — the latter of which while roaming the outfield for the Golden Eagles while routinely hitting around .400 and slugging away for 20-plus RBI in a season.

When he signed with BYU to play quarterback, he was fully invested in the gridiron — even while serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Roseville, California, accepting assignments on bikes to keep himself in some sort of athletic condition.

But the son of former BYU running back Kalin Hall and ex-BYU gymnast Hollie Hamilton also wanted to give baseball a try, and see if he could regain his old form on the diamond.

"I think I’ve known it all along. That’s just the competitor in me," Hall said when asked when he thought he could be back in baseball shape. "But as far as my skills, I was a little skeptical if it would come back as quick as I wanted it.

"But I knew eventually it would come back."

Hall's parents were supportive, too. They were both Division I athletes, and knew the juggling that it takes to manage one sport in college, yet alone multiple endeavors. They also have watched their son KJ, Jaren Hall’s older brother who left the team after two seasons and a redshirt, as he tried to juggle the demands of full-time school, work, a new family and a walk-on running back role at BYU.

They didn’t want Jaren Hall to have a similar experience. So they gave him one piece of advice, and it had nothing to do with throwing spirals or nailing the cutoff man.

"Just make sure you keep up with your school work and spirituality," Jaren Hall recalled. "Focus on the first things first, and everything else will fall into place. They’ve helped me stay level-headed."

So far, his baseball teammates have loved him. Senior outfielder Brock Hale predicts Hall will make an impact as the Cougars try to make it back to an NCAA regional after a disappointing 22-28 season a year ago.

"He's a good teammate. I know he's just integrating into the team, so he’s been a bit quiet. But he’s supportive, and more than anything, we’re seeing how he can adjust," Hale said of Hall. "I speak for the whole team in that we are all really impressed by Jaren, his athletic ability, and how quickly he has been able to pick it back up."

Littlewood doesn’t predict Hall to start — certainly not immediately, as the Cougars open the 2019 season Friday with a trip to Arizona to face Northwestern and Cal. But he agrees the freshman make an impact. He’s officially a walk-on, a freshman, and one who has been home from a mission for less than a year — albeit with a full season of football in which he played two games while backing up Zach Wilson.

Tanner Mangum, Jaren Hall and Joe Critchlow during BYU's practice before facing Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo: Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

Littlewood even understands that football is the freshman's first priority, noticeably with Hall set to receive a lion’s share of work in spring ball amid the absence of Wilson, who had shoulder surgery in the offseason.

That, too, lines up for Littlewood and the BYU baseball team; the Cougars will spend the entire month of February on the road before the home opener March 5 against Utah Valley. From there, they’ll be at home every day in March save for a three-game series at Gonzaga, allowing Hall to spend time both in football and baseball.

"In the role that we need him for, as a pinch-runner, defensive help or a spot start here and there, he doesn’t have to be a starter for us like (Jacob) Hannemann did (in 2013). Jaren can kind of ease into it," said Littlewood, who anticipates playing Hall in left field and some center. "Plus, as a person, he’s 100 times better than I anticipated. He’ll be great for the culture of our team, and will be really fun to watch this year."

Hall doesn’t want to leave football to pursue a baseball career, nor does he want to leave baseball to focus on football.

At least, not yet. If it comes time to make a decision like Kyler Murray did this week, he’ll cross that bridge.

For now, he’s enjoying being BYU's next dual-sport athlete.

"Any time I’m outside of baseball, I’m playing football," Hall said. "When I’m not playing football, I’m playing baseball.

"It's pretty much a 50-50 split right now, and that’s where I’d like to keep it."

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