Moving the Chains with . . . Western Illinois running back/return specialist Justin Hall

Moving the Chains with . . . Western Illinois running back/return specialist Justin Hall

After playing in the Under Armour All-America Game as a high school athlete, Justin Hall originally signed with Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference. However, he soon found his way to Western Illinois University where his star shined brightly as a redshirt freshman.

The former three-sport standout from Homewood-Flossmoor High School quickly found success. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back/return specialist was named to the Phil Steele FCS Freshman All-America team as well as Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer team.

Hall ranked fifth all-time in WIU history with 660 kick return yards in a single season. He led the MVFC with 706 combined return yards, including a career-best 158 against national champion North Dakota State.

Get to know Justin Hall in our Prairie State Pigskin Moving the Chains Q&A.

When you decided to leave Northern Illinois, how did you choose Western?

One thing that I emphasized when I went back into being recruited again was that I wanted genuine people. People who were actually looking out for you and wanted the best for you, but they were also going to push you and put you through hard work. I found those characteristics and traits in Western.

Right off the bat, Coach (Jared) Elliott heard my story and saw how it was. He actually tried to get me here (out of high school). This is a guy who genuinely wanted me. When I came to check out the school, he was interested in my family. He was invested in me. This is a place that wants me to be a better person whether that’s on the football field, in the classroom, or just as a regular person.

In addition to football, you also played basketball and ran track in high school. Which of those do you miss more?

Basketball, without a doubt, I’m not even going to lie to you. I miss hoopin’. I was a big-time hooper. I always joke with my coach because when someone asks what type of player are you, some guys say ‘I’m a three-point shooter’ or ‘I’m dribbler’ but I was like ‘I’m a defensive player’. But everybody jokes about it because if you’re one of those types of players you’re hacking and fouling. That’s a joke we have going on in the running back room.

What is the best part of your football game?

The contagious energy that I bring to it. A lot of players can be good or a lot of players can work hard, but when you can bring energy to all of those other players, that’s when you’ve really got something going for yourself. You’ve got something a lot of players can’t bring to the team or to the field. Even when I was younger, I brought a lot of energy. I’m not always uptight, I’m usually relaxed. When you’re around me, you just want to smile. I bring positive energy.

Do you feel like that makes you such a successful return specialist?

Yes, yes! That does play a role in that because when you have a player that you enjoy and that you hang out with, it makes it easier to want to help that player out. When it comes down to it, teammates are like, ‘That’s J-Hall, he’s my brother, and I want to block for him.’ And vice versa, I want to go all out for them.

You earned quite a list of accolades last year. Do you have a favorite among those awards?

I don’t really focus on those type of things. I remember when one of the roommates told me, ‘Yo, you’re on the Phil Steele All-America team!’ I was like, ‘What?!’ That’s really cool, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw it was on Facebook or Instagram and I saw how big it was. I don’t let those get into my head. I just keep playing because the second I stop, that’s when I’m falling behind and start losing those awards.

If you could pick to be on a real-life version of a TV show, which one would you choose and why?

My Wife and Kids. I like the whole sit-com family with the jokes and the Wayan Brothers. I grew up with that show, but I just feel like I could fit in with that family. If you know me, I make a lot of silly mistakes in my life. That show represents a lot of that in me. It’s that show or Everybody Hates Chris. It’s either/or with those two shows.

You were involved in ‘Friends with Rachel,’ an anti-bullying group in high school. How did you get started with that?

Even though I was known and really good at football in high school, I spoke to everybody. I treated everybody the same, and I was always uplifting. I realized very quickly that people could be having some of the worst days or going through something rough. I realized a simple gesture could bring some happiness to that person. Something small like a smile or a hello or even a head nod could do that. It could change a life.

Justin Hall

Justin Hall

So, I said that I stand on this and I need to get involved. I was talking to one of my teachers and she suggested Friends with Rachel. They had an event when they brought in middle school students into our high school. We set up this gymnasium with games and prizes and were just hanging out with all the kids. We had fun with them and encouraged them. I felt like it was one of those experiences that high schoolers need to have. You learned a lot about yourself. You learned a lot about life. You learned a lot about those kids. It was one of those unique experiences that I feel like a lot of people should have.

Valentine’s Day was last week. What’s something you love about college?

You never know what’s going to happen next. And that’s any part of college. You meet a lifelong friend, but you meet through a random situation like you might have dropped something in the dining hall or spilled something on his shoe. The next time you see him, you’re smiling and that’s the start of a friendship. It’s those random situations that you aren’t even thinking about, but it’s that start of something new. At any time, anything can happen.

If there was a Zombie Apocalypse, which of your teammates would be most likely to survive?

Well, it’s not me (laughs). He would have to have the full package, so it can’t be a lineman (laughs harder). I’d go with Tony Tate and Dennis Houston. They got the smarts and the brains so they know what to do. They’ve got the athletic ability. They’ve got the will. It’s also got to be with planning and I know those two are good with that. I’d definitely be with them so I’d have a chance to survive.

It’s the same question, but now, which of the coaches would most likely survive?

Oh, you’re going to get me in trouble! I’m going with Coach Shep (special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Patrick Shepard). The reason I’m going with him is because he’s a different one; he’s a different type of guy. He’ll be like a savage. He’ll be out there handling those zombies. I’m going with Coach Shep.



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