One of the most scrutinized starting quarterback battles — and perhaps the first three-way race for the marquee spot — in BYU football history ended the way almost everybody thought it would.
Jaren Hall was offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick’s man all along. You could discern that by the way Roderick spoke about the 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore way back in January when Zach Wilson surprised no one by entering the NFL draft.
Roderick, who recruited Hall to play for him at Utah years ago when he was on Kyle Whittingham’s staff on the Hill, solidified that sentiment at football media day in June when he said Hall would be hard to beat out if he stayed healthy.
Well, Hall stayed healthy. And now he’s the starter, the man tasked with the impossible job of trying to replicate what Wilson did last year. Given BYU’s killer schedule, it appears beyond impossible.
But Hall is the best pick to make that happen. Baylor Romney might have been the safer choice — teammates respect his calm demeanor and poise — and four-star recruit Jacob Conover probably still has the highest ceiling, the brightest future.
But Hall has a little bit of all that, plus the trait that Roderick loves in his QBs, dating back to his time running Utah’s offense: explosiveness.
At this point in their careers, Hall has the best chance of making big plays, of creating something out of nothing. Roderick wants those characteristics in his QBs. Roderick said if the season started today, Romney would be the backup and Conover, the freshman, the third-stringer.
For Hall, whom head coach Kalani Sitake doesn’t want looking over his shoulder just because the other two guys have shown they are capable, too, now comes the hard part.
Inheriting a deep and talented group of receivers, running backs and tight ends, he has to get this promising offense to click from the beginning.
As an independent that will be sentenced to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, in December if it loses more than one game, at best, BYU has no margin for error.
Of course, the offensive line needs to do its part, but that’s a topic for another day.
Wednesday, it was Hall’s day. Having become the first African American to start at QB in BYU history two years ago in an October game at South Florida, the son of former BYU running back great Kalin Hall can now say he is the first Black athlete to win a starting QB derby at BYU. That’s not nothing.
Hall beat out two guys who could start at a lot of other places. The competition was that intense.
In his usual, unexcitable way, Hall said it “feels good” in a Wednesday afternoon news conference, then quickly reminded everyone that the most important wins come from the team itself.
“I will enjoy it with my wife (former Utah Valley soccer star Breanna McCarter Hall) and my family,” he said. “It is fun. But we gotta go win (a week from) Saturday.”
A redshirt sophomore from Spanish Fork who prepped at Maple Mountain High before a two-year mission to Roseville, California, Hall missed the entire 2020 season with a hip injury.
He told the Deseret News in February that he was “laser-focused” on winning the job, which is why he decided not to play baseball this past spring and concentrate solely on football. He played center field for the Cougars baseball team in 2019 and 2020.
He had mixed feelings Wednesday whether that decision was validated by his rise to QB1.
“I mean, yes and no,” he said. “You have seen guys in college do both, right? But for me, as far as my body goes, being healthy was a big thing. So in that sense it was a good time to kinda focus in on football and take care of some of the things that were affecting that.”
In a way, Hall won this job back in 2019 when he played what Roderick would call a “near-perfect half” in a win at Utah State in his second, and last, until Sept. 4, college start. Before sustaining a concussion that ended his season, Hall completed 12 of 16 passes for 214 yards and also rushed seven times for 54 yards and two TDs.
He was as good in those 30 minutes as Wilson ever was in 2020, against similar competition as the No. 2 NFL draft pick of the New York Jets faced. The big question now: Can Hall stay healthy?
Having suffered two concussions in 2019 and the season-ending hip injury last year, is he injury prone? Roderick doesn’t think so.
“Personally I think those (injuries) were fluky things,” Roderick said. “He’s a really tough kid. He works as hard as anybody in this program. He’s in great shape. He is one of the best athletes on this team and I expect him to be ready to play just like any QB in this program has played.”
Can he play like some of the greats? Like Ty Detmer, Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, Robbie Bosco and the other legends? To Hall’s credit, he knows what’s going to be expected of him.
“I wouldn’t call it a weight (on his shoulders),” he said. “There have been great quarterbacks historically at BYU. I think it is more an excitement to follow in the footsteps of all the predecessors before that have won X amount of games and done so well. For me, it is exciting and I am just looking forward to getting out there and doing what I can.”
In Wednesday’s news conference — credit to BYU for not letting speculation drag into next week — Roderick and Sitake both said the position was won on the field.
“We did more team, 11-on-11 reps than I have ever done in my career and Jaren earned the job,” Roderick said.
Added Sitake: “It was decided on the field. It was evident that this was the best move for us going forward. … The final say is (what happens) on the field. The field has the final say. A-Rod is very capable of making every decision that is right for the offense. I am always going to support him.”
Because Roderick has spoken — just like he did in January.