Senior center lifts spirits on daily basis
Every team needs that player -- the guy who can impact games and practices with the right attitude. And usually, that guy isn't the player who's in the headlines.
But ask teammates, and they're quick to talk about how valuable that person is to the team's ability to achieve its goals.
For the Texas Longhorns, that guy is senior center Chris Hall.
"He's a goof," said left guard Charlie Tanner, who lines up beside Hall every game. "It's so easy to make him laugh and everybody loves hearing him laugh. He's the guy that if you come to practice and you're a little depressed, he'll get you excited and ready to go.
"He lifts the whole team. The guy is always smiling and always upbeat."
Tanner is quick to mention that Hall does much more than to keep the team fired up on the field. Hall has become an important anchor on an offensive line that has protected Colt McCoy and has opened up holes the last few weeks for a resurgent Longhorns running game.
Growing up in Irving, Hall and his family were big UT fans.
"I remember watching the Red River Shootout and pulling for Texas," Hall said. "I feel like I got to fulfill a family dream by getting the chance to play here. I'm very lucky."
Hall arrived in Austin in 2005 as an all-district and all-area offensive tackle out of Irving High School. He was redshirted and got on the field in seven games in 2006 as a left guard. It was in Hall's sophomore season that his versatility became apparent. He played every offensive line position, filling in for various players sidelined by injuries.
After his tour through the line, Hall settled in at center just before the season ended and has stayed there since. He missed two games last season -- Kansas and Texas A&M -- because of a knee injury, but has stayed healthy for most of his career.
"He is, honestly, the happiest person that I've ever been around," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "And he's so smart. He's played five different positions on that offensive line and he can move out to any of the other positions without practicing during the week. I've never seen anybody like that."
Hall prefers center, because he has all the control once his team gets up to the line. Hall helps call out the defensive formations and has the football in his hands to start every play.
"In the shotgun, I got to decide when the ball is snapped," Hall said. "That gives me a good jump off the ball."
It's impossible to talk with Hall, even for a short time, and not get an understanding for how important his faith is to him. Hall is an ordained minister and has a degree in communication studies (human relations). He is learning Hebrew as part of Jewish Studies at Texas this semester.
"I'd like to go to Bible School and be trained in speaking and helping people," Hall said. "I want to teach people about the faith. I'm also thinking about going to Israel for a Master's degree in Middle Eastern studies at Tel Aviv University."
How many college centers are thinking about doing that?
Hall's plans don't surprise his teammates.
"In 20 years, I know he'll be a minister somewhere," senior defensive tackle Lamarr Houston said. "I think he'll have his own church."
But Hall isn't thinking about any of that now. His focus is beating Kansas to clinch the Big 12 South in what will be his final game in Austin.
"I can't believe this is it," Hall said. "My years at Texas have been the best of my life. I can honestly say that. It's been a lot of fun."
Brown knows that he'll have to find players to take the spots of a talented group of seniors, including Hall. But he'll also have to replace Hall's critical role as inspirational leader.
"On the visible side, Colt and Jordan [Shipley] get so much attention and they've done so much for this program," Brown said. "On the inside, Chris Hall has done just as much with the kids and the spirit of this team and helping this team learn to handle adversity and move through and be positive."
Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.