CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After starting as a sophomore at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Bryce Hall dropped a bombshell on head coach Jeff Weachter.
Hall approached his coach that spring and said he wasn’t going to play football anymore. Instead, he was going to focus on basketball.
“I said ‘You’re kidding. At best, you’re a Division II basketball player,’” Weachter said. “You’re a D-I football player.”
Two-a-days came and went and Hall was nowhere to be seen. He watched the Crusaders’ first scrimmage from the stands, and it didn’t take long for him to regret his decision.
“He called me the next day on Sunday and said ‘Coach, I made a horrible mistake. Can I still come out?’” Weachter recalled. “I said ‘Of course. But you’re not going to start the first couple games.’ I understood because that’s just Bryce. He wants to be perfect at everything he does, and he wanted to spend that time perfecting basketball.”
That penchant for perfectionism followed Hall to Virginia, and after not playing much defense in high school, it’s what helped him evolve into one of the best cornerbacks in the country.
“Bryce Hall’s preparation started with interest and desire. He was anxious to learn, anxious to improve and anxious to perfect his skills,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Bryce shows up every day like he’s going to work. He’s there from morning to night between his classes. That’s not something everyone in our program does, but it provides a great example of what I’d like the future program to look like.”
From his sophomore season on at Bishop McDevitt, Hall started as a wide receiver. He did split a few defensive reps with Kobay White, who was Boston College’s top wide receiver last season, but Hall did most of his work in the passing game. He caught more than 50 passes in each of his final two seasons, racked up 1,108 receiving yards as a senior and graduated with 2,386 yards and 35 career touchdowns.
“I think all those years playing receiver have helped with my understanding of what offenses are trying to do and with my ball skills,” Hall said.
Virginia co-defensive coordinator Nick Howell called during basketball season to tell Hall he was going to move him to safety, but after heading to Pennsylvania to see him play live, Howell decided he was better suited at corner.
“They asked me during my official visit if I wanted to played receiver or corner, and I said either,” Hall said. “I think he saw how I moved laterally and thought I would be a good fit at corner.”
Hall isn’t the only player on Virginia’s roster who had to master the defensive side of the ball on the fly. In 2016, he stepped on Grounds with two players in the same situation. Senior Nick Grant spent much of his career at Courtland High School in Fredericksburg as a wide receiver, and junior OLB/S Chris Moore did the same at Broad Run in Ashburn.
With Grant and Moore expected to join Hall on the field this season, the trio’s journey has come full circle from the days of gathering at 7 a.m. in Virginia’s indoor facility before practice to work on their backpedals and press coverage techniques.
“It was funny because we were so raw in terms of fundamentals and technique,” Hall said. “We really had to stumble into it and take in whatever the coaches were saying. After a lot of failing and getting roasted multiple times in practice, I started to find my way.”
Grant and Hall are living together this year, and the former has a firsthand view of the preparation that makes the latter such a force in space.
“He genuinely loves the film room,” Grant said. “You can catch him doing his homework in the film room and eating in the film room. That extra work has now become the culture here.”
Hall’s habits in the film room have become legendary around Grounds. Late last season, Virginia’s coaches were hosting a couple recruits at the McCue Center and happened upon Hall all alone in a room lit only by the glow of the game film projected onto a screen, which consumed the majority of one wall.
Hall has his own space set aside in Virginia’s football building for his daily film study, and Grant said his roommate is rarely caught without his iPad.
“Bryce is a great leader for anyone to watch,” Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins said. “He’s one of the best players in the country, and he does everything the right way.”
Mendenhall said he has only coached a handful of players with Hall’s dedication to film study. That, and time spent chasing passes as a receiver, are what make Hall such an instinctive player with the ball in the air and such an intriguing prospect to NFL scouts. That dedication has also resonated with his teammates.
“If you had to make a player mold and put all the qualities in there, that’s Bryce Hall,” Perkins said. “There are things you can do to be the best, and the things he does model what coach believes, and looking at him has helped how I shape my practices and how I go about setting and accomplishing goals.”
Hall’s decision to pass on the NFL Draft and return to Charlottesville for his senior season caught Weachter almost as off guard as his flirtations with quitting football.
Weachter has coached his share of NFL players, including Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Noah Spence. He has plenty of friends in the league, and they all told him Hall was going to be picked on the draft’s first day. So, when the two ran into each other back home in Pennsylvania in January, he had to ask.
“Certainly, the degree was important to him, but he also wanted another year to perfect his craft and enjoys being around his teammates,” Weachter said. “That’s him in a nutshell. He cares about his team and he’s a perfectionist.”
Hall has the size (6-1, 200) NFL scouts look for in a cornerback, and after leading the nation last season with 22 pass breakups, he has the potential to be one of the top corners selected in the 2020 draft. But it has taken his desire for perfection to evolve into one of the best defenders in the country.
“There are things my dad instilled in me growing and I learned early in life that things aren’t going to be handed to you,” Hall said. “Coming into this program and being around the coaches have taught me there’s a right way and a wrong way, and I try to do everything to the best of my ability.”