By: Connor Dunning ( @CDunning901 )
Austin Hall, #25, is a redshirt freshman defensive back for the University of Memphis football team and has quickly become a fan favorite. He plays the “star” position on defense, which is a hybrid safety that uses multiple techniques such as blitzing like a linebacker and covering like a safety. The unique name of his position holds some irony in it because he has also emerged as a star on the defensive side of the ball for the Tigers. In the first seven games, he has 44 tackles and a fumble recovery while taking on more responsibility for the Tigers defense. Hall, a former walk-on from Collierville High School, is a great example of what hard work and determination can produce. In one season, he has gone from the practice squad to starting for the Tigers to winning the AAC defensive player of the week award.
Connor Dunning: You’ve been described as a ball hawk by many people. Is this caused by planning and practice or is it more of you going on instinct?
Austin Hall: A ball hawk starts with game planning because preparation is key for success in a game. Coaches always say you have to practice like you will play, or your mistakes show up in the game. Going hard in practice and preparing prior to the game helps me make decisions quicker and even helps me make decisions before the ball is snapped. This allows me to be around the ball very fast once the play begins.
CD: Tell us about your normal day at practice.
AH: On a practice day, we come in and go through meetings, make sure every player and coach are on the same plan, and we start to incorporate the game plan. Towards the end of each week, we have learned and practiced it so we can execute it on game day. After meetings, we strap up and it's work time. A regular practice goes off of periods. Each practice is roughly 22-24 periods and each period is around 5 minutes. Practice usually last 2 hours and it's a grind from start to finish.
CD: Has the new notoriety as a fan favorite changed your mindset?
AH: I wouldn't say it has changed my mindset, but I would say it has opened my eyes up a little and has built more confidence in me to be a big time player for our team.
CD: Has it been difficult being a walk-on?
AH: Being a walk-on is definitely tough, especially in the beginning. Coming in its tough because you've got to earn your spot and prove that you can play for the team one day.
CD: Was the transition from Justin Fuente to Mike Norvell and his staff difficult?
AH: It's been difficult in some ways. I guess in some ways it's tough for some people because they fill like they have to prove themselves to a whole new staff, but it some cases it opens opportunities for some players who weren't a big help with the other staff.
CD: How has the team reacted to Norvell’s coaching?
AH: Norvell is a great coach in my eyes. His work ethic is something to watch and he is an intense guy. Everyone has their opinion on coaches and some are different than others, but for the most part everyone has bought into his plan and we have gained his trust since he joined Memphis.
CD: What does winning the AAC defensive player of the week award mean to you? Does it help keep you motivated?
AH: Winning the award is something I'll never forget. It's just an honor and I'm grateful to be able to play this game. It definitely keeps me motivated because that's just the first step for me as a player and it motivates me to be even better.
CD: Collierville has really enjoyed watching you play this season. What do you have to say to your fans back in your home town?
AH: I love my hometown and it is great hearing from friends and family from back home. Their support has pushed me and I want to make them proud.
CD: What does it mean to you to be a Memphis Tiger?
AH: Being a tiger is an honor. Memphis is a different place than most, but it is special. Being a Memphis Tiger means you work hard on a daily basis and you don’t take no for an answer.
CD: Although Fuente and Paxton Lynch are gone, the fan support has stayed. Does that help motivate the team each week knowing that the city is behind you?
AH: Having fans is great and makes the game more exciting, obviously. Our fans are tremendous and we love when we have their support because it pushes us to play hard and win games for the city.
CD: You have become one of the play callers on the defensive end at times, do you like this responsibility?
AH: After 7 games in my career, I've gotten a feel for the college level and speed. I consider myself a leader on the D and I call strength calls and it is a big responsibility, but I think I have handled it well.
The Memphis Tigers, 5-2, look to get back to their winning ways as they play Tulsa on 10/29 at 7 PM on ESPN.