Sept. 24, 2016
By: Spencer Haynes
Spring is a time of new beginnings.
Last spring was exactly that for Virginia defensive lineman Mark Hall. Except his new beginning came in the form of a new challenge.
“I felt I had to play with a big chip on my shoulder,” Hall said. “When we got new coaches, the standards changed. Coach (Bronco) Mendenhall made it clear that there was no guarantee that you would have a scholarship for a redshirt-senior season.”
With a determined focus, Hall set out to impress the coaches, but he was not alone in this fight. At his side was his brother, Devon, a member of Virginia’s basketball team, and his family of coaches, who have played a huge role in the brothers’ lives.
“I know for a fact that we always have that support factor behind us,” Devon said. “Our family is at every single game.”
It is easy to see where the strong family bonds come from. Being coached by his grandfather and father, and even his mother in grade-school basketball, taught Mark an important motto.
“One of the main things my grandfather, my mom and my dad preached to me was to never quit,” Hall said.
For Hall, the idea of getting playing time and earning a spot was not some novel idea, because it was something he learned from a young age.
“Just because my father was the coach, that did not guarantee that I would play,” Hall said. “I had to work just as hard, because if I was not the best at what I did, I was not going to start or play. He would push us and push us, but because I was the coach’s son, I did not want to let him down or embarrass him, so I wanted to lead by example.”
A mentality of hard work and a dedication to the game were ideals instilled in the minds of the Hall brothers from an early age. Along the way, they always had their family right next to them.
“We always knew somebody had our back because he was our father and coach,” Devon said.
That support system was never more important than when Hall faced the football program’s new standard to actually practice in the spring: the tempo run.
“The tempo runs were tough for me,” Hall said. “I moved from linebacker to defensive end, so I had to gain weight, because I was a little small for a defensive end in the 3-4 (defensive scheme). I still had to run the linebacker times, which was very understandable, but I was not making the times and just had to keep going.”
Tempo runs vary from position to position, but for Hall and the linebackers, it consisted of running 300 yards around a track, four times at 45 seconds or better per lap.
“It may sound easy, but it is a dead sprint the entire time and you only get a little break between each one,” Hall said.
Even though Mark was struggling with the tempo runs, Devon was there every step of the way encouraging him.
“I kept telling him to keep confidence in himself and know that he can do it and never give up,” Devon said. “My brother is resilient. It is just the matter of channeling it and beating any obstacle in front of him.”
Mark heeded Devon’s words, because soon after talking with his brother, as well as an encouraging text from UVA men’s basketball head coach Tony Bennett, he pushed his way past the tempo runs.
There was still work to do. Hall felt he needed to impress the new coaching staff to keep his position on the team in the fall.
“Keeping that chip on my shoulder made me work harder,” Hall said. “Even in practice now, I still keep that [chip on my shoulder], to keep playing and contribute to the team.”
His perseverance and doggedness are qualities he hopes to pass on to younger kids.
Hall has volunteered with the local Boys and Girls Club and tutored and mentored at Albemarle High School.
“It is good to see the smile on their faces,” Hall said. “I’ve always wanted to give back. I can give back with the knowledge and experience of what I went through.”
Now enrolled at the Curry School of Education, Hall is looking forward to making an impact with young students, either in the classroom or on the football field.
He’ll bring his family values with him.
“My mom just tries to give me the best advice, and my grandfather is still teaching me the old ways [of football],” Mark said with a laugh. “He’s still teaching me the old techniques, but he knows football very well.”
The importance of never giving up is one lesson Hall has learned. His drive and motivation to remain a member of the Cavalier team have inspired him to never accept limitations and to believe in his own abilities to excel at new challenges, and fresh beginnings.