De'von Hall's former Utah State football teammates worried about him when he called and said he was walking from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City to visit them.

When the Aggies played USC four years ago, Hall appeared at the Los Angeles Coliseum, dragging a garbage bag and speaking incoherently.

His friends recognized that Hall was not the person they once knew in Logan, but none of them could have seen this coming: Hall's mother, Alecia Benson, was beaten in late April and died four days later from a traumatic brain injury.

Hall, 29, faces murder charges. He's undergoing a court-ordered evaluation of his competence, as detailed in an extensive Los Angeles Times story.

One ex-teammate offered his own findings. "De'von mentally is gone," Dionte Holloway said. "That's not the De'von I know. That's not the De'von I went to school with. That's not my friend. That's somebody who was out of their mind."

The part that shocks Hall's friends is how his mother became the victim. "She was his rock," said Jeff Copp, the assistant coach who recruited him to Logan.

What can we conclude about Hall's troubles? That's tricky. Nobody should make any connection from his case to any other off-field issues in Utah State's program in recent years.

His problems should not serve as a summary of his Aggie tenure (2005-08) as a starting linebacker and safety, even if those four years with a 9-38 record marked the worst period in school history as coach Brent Guy took the Aggies into the Western Athletic Conference.

My takeaway: Mental health, as voiced recently by BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum and others, is a major issue on campuses and in society. Maybe there's a big leap from anxiety and mild depression, as Mangum disclosed, to an alleged murder, triggered by mental illness.

Yet what should become clear to all of us is these athletes are actual people, with real lives.

In the stands and in the media, we tend to judge their production and view them strictly as performers. When they're through playing, we move on to the next group of entertainers.

The NFL is part of that disposable culture. The league failed Hall, his uncle told the Times, with four teams signing and releasing him and none apparently addressing his mental health, amid signs of problems. Family members believe he sustained head trauma with Indianapolis in 2009, when he appeared in four games for the Colts. USU coaches and teammates don't recall any concussions during his time in Logan. Yet somewhere along way, Hall got derailed.

He engaged in odd behavior, illustrated by inexplicable Facebook posts and reckless driving on I-10 in New Mexico, on his way home from Florida to California. He once started walking toward Utah from Los Angeles and reached Barstow, 115 miles away, before calling his mother, who came and got him.

The Times' story creates the impression that Hall's USU associates did all they could to help him. Awareness of mental health issues and intervention remain vital, though.

Mangum's public stance is healthy. "There are going to be times when I'm frustrated or sad or down, but we're all human," he said. "We all go through times like that. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

Sean Welsh, a star offensive lineman for Iowa, also has spoken lately of his depression. Utah linebacker Alex Whittingham, a son of Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, recently addressed the subject via Twitter: "Please, never be afraid to open up. There's always help for you and there's always people that care."

Here's my pledge, as a media member: I'll never again be dismissive, when coaches talk about developing their players as men and women, not only as athletes. I'll support coaches and athletes who talk about creating a transformational strategy of building well-rounded adults — beyond a transactional approach of how the coach can get them to the pros. I'll continue to take concussions seriously. And I'll think of football players as people, not just jersey numbers.

Hall's issues obviously have gone to a whole other level, but the lessons of his story can be applied to where his problems started.