Why BYU’s Jaren Hall wasn’t one that got away

Eye on the Y: The recruiting trail is full of near-miss stories. Here’s one about Florida State coach Mike Norvell and a phone call in Spanish Fork.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jaren Hall answers questions during a press conference after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. The Vikings won 24-10. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

When the phone call came in, and the recipient turned ghostly white, Salem Hills High School coach Jeff Higginson thought somebody might have died.

He was sitting at Kneaders, a bakery just off the highway in Spanish Fork. Across from him was Mike Norvell, then the offensive coordinator at Arizona State, and Chip Long, the Sun Devils’ tight ends coach.

The ASU contingent had flown in that morning to talk about a young quarterback named Jaren Hall. But Norvell was interrupted when he got a call from Memphis.

“We were going to make the offer to Jaren Hall,” Higginson said. “... The call came in. He went white. I thought somebody died and they had offered him the head coaching job at Memphis.”

Norvell left the restaurant immediately, went straight to the airport and was announced as Memphis’ head coach that night in 2015, Higginson remembered.

In a college football recruiting world filled with odd connections, I always enjoy these “near-miss” stories and wondering how things might have played out differently. There are plenty of “the one who got away” stories in recruiting. But as I was talking with Higginson recently, I thought you might enjoy hearing a part of Hall’s path to Provo.

The connection between Hall and Norvell started early in Hall’s recruiting process, when Higginson brought the quarterback to Tempe for a high school recruiting camp.

Higginson had known Hall since grade school and coached him in baseball. Hall played for the Diamond Dogs — before it was a name popularized by the TV show Ted Lasso — and they traveled around the country to Cooperstown and other cities. Hall was Higginson’s do-it-all player who could play shortstop, center field, pitch and even catch in a bind.

“Hall was as fine of a baseball player as I’ve ever really seen,” Higginson said.

Higginson was also a part-time football coach, helping his brother out at the high school level in Salem. He had gotten to know Arizona State head coach Todd Graham a bit. He respected how Graham knocked off Utah multiple times and beat UCLA, USC and Stanford. So he took Hall and another player, Cooper Smith, to see Graham and Norvell. (Smith would end up playing at Southern Utah.)

That weekend, Norvell became interested in the under-recruited quarterback who could run and throw. Norvell was working with a similar player at the time: Taylor Kelly, who finished his career with nearly 9,000 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards.

Norvell stayed in touch with Higginson until he flew up to Spanish Fork to talk about a potential offer. But it never materialized as Norvell left to Memphis. Long followed him as Norvell’s offensive coordinator and tight ends coach.

Hall would get a BYU offer and commit soon after. It worked out for both parties.

Hall accounted for nearly 7,000 yards and won 18 games in two years at BYU. He was a fifth-round draft pick. Hall is a backup quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.

Norvell went from being the youngest head coach in the country at Memphis — winning 38 games and having two 10-win seasons — to getting the Florida State job. He is now one of the better coaches in the sport, and was in consideration for the Alabama job when Nick Saban stepped down.

Quick hits

RICK PITINO gave Mark Pope some unexpected praise.

THE COUGARS just took down the No. 11 Baylor Bears.

PUKA NACUA starred in the NBA’s celebrity basketball game.