NR: 40 SR: 42 Star Rating: ***
An Inside Texas conversation with Irving head coach Jim Bennett on Chris Hall:
IT: What are Chris's strengths as a football player?
Bennett: I've known Chris all the way from junior high. His physical size has obviously been a key factor for him but overall I think the things that are more important and (make him) the kind of kid that can go to Texas and be successful are his work ethic, his character and his desire to be a good player. He's shown that here at Irving High School as a three year starter and he's been in a situation the last two years being the front man for a running back that's led 5A in scoring and touchdowns the last two years as a sophomore more and a junior and Chris has been the key guy. If we need third and one, or something close, we know where to run the ball. I think it's just his dedication to game and his character that make him a great catch for The University of Texas.
IT: What did the Texas coaches tell you that they like about Chris?
Bennett: Basically the same thing I just said. Of course they get more into the football aspects of it. Talking to coach McWhorter yesterday, he really likes Chris's feet, they like his aggressiveness. A lot of time offensive linemen are a little more passive-type personalities but Chris is gonna block to the back of your heard or till the whistle blows, one of the two, and I think that's a kind of defensive lineman mentality in an offensive lineman's body and position, so I think that's some of the things they like the most about him. His intelligence -- he picks up things quickly. His ability to learn blocking schemes and to make calls at the line of scrimmage and do the things he supposed to do has been crucial to us in helping our younger linemen come along. But they really like his feet, his toughness and -- I'm glad to hear this, coach Brown in our conversation yesterday, and I think this is crucial when you are recruiting kids today but I was sop pleased to hear him say that character was something they really put a lot of emphasis on and I agree with that wholeheartedly and I think that's very important.
IT: Where did he play for you guys?
Bennett: He played tackle. He was a tackle for three years for us. We teamed him up with some guys at tight end. He took a kid this year -- and Texas will recruit (Dante Pinchback), but he's just a sophomore, he's a 6-5, 255 tight end and Chris kind of nurtured him and brought him along and basically if I put him at tackle, he can coach both of those guys; he can coach the tight end and he can coach the guard, which helps us on the field, and I felt like athletically, he could be a center or a guard, but we played him at tackle.
IT: Where does he project to play at the next level?
Bennett: He can play any of the three. He's a good enough athlete to be a center, a good enough athlete to pull -- he pulled for us as a tackle, he runs well enough to play any of the three positions.
IT: What do you think his top side is in terms of size?
Bennett: Chris is about 6-4, 6-5, he could be taller than that but if not, that's tall enough. The thing that Chris lacks right now is overall strength and I think that when he gets down there and gets in the weight room and matures, basically because so many kids in high school don't hit that maturity to where they really look like an adult till they're 19, and I think when that happens with Chris he's going to weight 330-335 pounds and with all of the other attributes that he has he's gonna really be a great player.
IT: Do you see other areas aside from strength that Chris needs to work on?
Bennett: Not a thing. I told coach McWhorter that if he's not the best technical lineman and hardest worker when he gets down there as a freshman, then I want to know about it. And I mean that. I honestly believe that. Our line coach does a great job with our kids. I've watched Texas since Mack's been there and I know what they do, and a lot of things we do are gonna be the same things that Chris will do at Texas and I think our guys do a great job so I would almost bet you that he'll do the things better than any other freshman coming in because I think he's been coached well.
IT: Is Chris a leader, and if so, how does he lead?
Bennett: Chris, particularly this year as a senior, is a leader by example because he's consistent, he's there, he does everything that he's coached to do. He's a coaches' player. He's one where you can ask him to do something, he understands, and he does it. He can be vocal and was more so this year as a senior in some situations. We graduated 10 of 11 defensive guys and nine offensive people two years ago. We went four rounds, to the quarterfinals, lost to Southlake out here at Texas Stadium and we graduated all these people, so his job was a big one this year. He's the senior, he's the leader, he did a good job for us. The fact that we ended up back at Texas Stadium in the playoffs was amazing because we beat some people to be real honest we might not should have beaten as far as personnel but we had won the district the two previous years in a row, gone four rounds, and got basically an extra month, but we ended up this year with 10 sophomores on the varsity and eight of them started. Chris was right beside a sophomore tight end who he coached on the field for us and a sophomore offensive guard that he coached on the field. The other linemen were first year starters, so he was vital to us as a leader, by example and doing the things on the field and making those kids believe we could be a good team, making them believe they could do things the way we needed 'em done and do them the way they were coached and we'd be successful and go back to Texas Stadium.
IT: Is there a defining moment for you that exemplifies Chris's ability as a football player?
Bennett: I don't know if there is a defining moment. I've known Chris was going to be a big-time college player, that he was going to be a top college recruit, since he was a sophomore. I've been coaching for 34 years but I've only had a handful of kids I could say that about, that you could see because of their work habits, their character and the other things that they would be that kind of player. I think one of the things to me is something that was crucial or that showed me that I knew I was right was last spring, Chris broke his collar bone about the fourth or fifth practice, and with high school kids, once they do that they kind of lose interest, they can't practice, it's difficult. But he was suited out in shorts and T-shirt every day and was with our offensive linemen in every drill in everything we did helped the coach and encouraged the guys to keep working even though he couldn't participate. When we went to the stadium for a scrimmage, he was there. If they were in a meeting going through blocking schemes, he was there. That just reaffirmed the things I had seen in him as a sophomore and a junior.
IT: What did Chris mean to your football program?
Bennett: He was crucial. He was the MVP. We just did our awards and we had Chris and another kid who was a first-year starter on the defensive side and was the difference for them -- matter of fact he's going to TCU -- but they were co-MVPs. Not just because one was offense and one was defense and we picked it that way, they were the best players, they were the best leaders we had. On our football team they were the two guys who got to coach the young kids, gave them the opportunity to go play at Texas Stadium in the playoffs because without them we would not have made it.
IT: Is there anything you'd like to add about Chris that we didn't already cover?
Bennett: I love my players and I love this kid. I'm proud of him as you can probably tell and I'm proud of him for the decision he made.
Note from Clendon: I asked Chris what the Texas coaches told him directly about his ability that led them to offer him: "My mobility, No. 1. Speed is really important in the college game and the trend has really gone to more mobile faster linemen than just big bodies that can punish people and really my mobility is what they like about me the most." He also said that Bobby Kennedy and Mac McWhorter did the heavy lifting in his recruitment, but that his future position coach closed the deal on his official visit a couple of weeks before Signing Day: "Coach McWhorter really sold it to me. We got up at 5:45 in the morning to go watch the team work out and just getting the chance to sit and talk to him one-on-one and really getting a chance to spend some time with him and talk to him really sold me. He didn't run me around at all, he shot it to me straight and you can tell when coaches BS you in the recruiting game and he didn't do that at all."
UT Signing Day bio: Three-year letterman who played primarily offensive tackle as a prepster … two-time All-District pick … earned 5A All-Area honors as a senior … earned first-team All-District (6-5A) honors in 2004 … had 115 pancake blocks in 11 games … named first-team All-District and All-City as a junior … led team to a 10-4 record and the 5A Division II Quarterfinals in 2003 … recorded 125 pancake blocks in 14 games … two-time member of the National Honor Society … a prep honor roll student who was a three-time Academic All-District pick … participates in PALs, a group that provides mentoring to elementary and junior high students … active in church youth group … enjoys fishing and lifting weights in his free time … brother, Zach, is a linebacker at Arkansas Tech … taking modern dance class for fine arts credit … born Jan. 1, 1987 in Irving, Texas.
"Texas has always been my dream school growing up. Coach Brown giving me the chance is really an honor and it opens the door for a lot of things that have always been goals for me. What impressed me the most was the character of the team. Every one of those guys is a good person. That's what Coach Brown recruits, and that comes from the headman down. Every football player and coach is a good person there."
NEXT UP: MICHAEL HOUSTON