Kragthorpe: Former BYU QB Hall vital to Nelson
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson trotted to the sideline and sought the counsel of a former teammate following every drive Saturday.
The calming presence, the voice of reason? The same QB who's remembered in the BYU-Utah rivalry for his impassioned, irrational comments.
Max Hall may be forever known for his postgame speech about his hate of the Utes, but he's loved in Provo. He's only two years removed from starting three games for the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. Working as a student coach for the Cougars, he's a valuable resource for Nelson.
That role thrusts Hall into another BYU-Utah meeting next Saturday. He's understandably reluctant to relive that night in 2009, speaking only in general terms about "a great rivalry, a heated rivalry."
Hall explained, "I don't want to make any distraction."
He probably should have thought of that three years ago before launching into his tirade about the "classless" Utes, while condemning "the whole university" and inspiring Utah fans to proudly wear "Max Hall Hates Me" T-shirts.
Undoubtedly emboldened by not having to face the Utes again as a player, Hall commemorated his 25-yard touchdown pass to Andrew George in overtime with a rant during a news conference that became a much bigger story than the winning play.
George spent his career being overshadowed by Dennis Pitta, BYU's other tight end, and then his biggest moment was eclipsed by his quarterback's postgame performance. George barely minds although now that he's working alongside Hall as a BYU graduate assistant coach, the subject comes up occasionally.
"We joke about everything," George said. "Max and I don't take each other too seriously. We have fun conversations about our career. I'm not a person who wants to be in the limelight all the time, so [being overlooked] didn't bother me, but we kind of laugh about it."
George describes his ex-teammate as "a huge help for our quarterbacks and for our staff." Hall is devoted to the job, spending nearly as much time as the full-time coaches when he's not in class, completing his degree in property facility management. He's gauging how much he likes coaching, while not being convinced he's through playing football at age 26.
As an undrafted rookie, Hall beat the reigning champion New Orleans Saints in his first start in October 2010, but a concussion and two shoulder injuries led the Cardinals to cut ties with him before the following season.
"The NFL is a great life, man," Hall said. "Did I get thrown in there too soon? Yeah, I did. But to have the memory of starting games in the NFL â¦ I had a blast."
Same with his BYU days, when he won a school-record 32 games in three seasons as a starting quarterback. Nelson was his backup in 2009, and they developed a good relationship that continues, so Hall is careful not to overplay his role.
"I let Riley come to me," he said.
Nelson does so, regularly.
"He's a student of the game and I am, too, and every little tidbit he has to offer, I just try to soak it up," Nelson said.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said Hall's presence enables offensive coordinator Brandon Doman to worry less about quarterbacking details and more about the overall scheme. He's also vital during games on the sideline while Doman call plays from the press box.
"I'm still pretty sharp on seeing what the defense is doing and understanding what's going on," said Hall, adding that his biggest influence on Nelson during games is "calming him down."
That's the evolution of Max Hall, even if the irony of that phrase is too complex to explain on a T-shirt.
Three years after his anti-Ute rant, former BYU quarterback Max Hall is involved in the rivalry again as a student coach. Here's how other controversial figures have done in subsequent meetings:
Wayne Howard • Responding to BYU's unnecessary touchdown in 1977, the Ute coach said the "hatred" between the programs would grow. Utah won 23-22 the following year, but Howard's teams were outscored 139-34 in his last three seasons.
Lenny Gomes • The BYU defensive lineman was a senior in 1993 when the Utes tried to tear down a BYU goalpost, and Gomes said they someday would be "pumping my gas." Now known as Lenny Gregory, he's a teacher and coach at a high school in Georgia.
Austin Collie • The BYU receiver attributed a 2007 victory to "doing what's right." The next year, the Cougars lost 48-24, although Collie caught 10 passes.