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Inside The Chart: Hall of an Engineer

by Andy Demetra (The Voice of the Yellow Jackets)

Inside The Chart | Hall of an Engineer:  Hassan Hall’s first homecoming came via the transfer portal. Ahead of Georgia Tech’s homecoming game against Duke, the RB from Atlanta has added a dose of dynamic, rediscovered playmaking to the Yellow Jackets’ offense. 

His snaps dwindling, his future looking cloudy, Hassan Hall found inspiration from his grandmother and a Shaolin monk.

It was midway through the 2021 season at the University of Louisville, where the Atlanta, Ga., native had spent the past three years as an all-ACC all-purpose back and kick returner. He had just rushed for a career-high 162 yards and a touchdown in a narrow, early October loss to Virginia, gouging the Cavaliers for more than 11 yards per carry.

Yet despite that career night, Hall’s playing time fell off. With the season winding down and graduation a month away, he began to see the writing on the wall.

His grandmother, Raeesah McKee, had told him for years about the value of meditation, of stealing a few minutes each day for mindfulness. Hall appreciated the advice, but never took her up on it.

Then one night, whether by fate or a fortuitous algorithm, Hall came across a YouTube video of Shi Heng Yi, the headmaster at Shaolin Temple Europe, preaching the virtues of meditation and self-mastery. Suddenly he couldn’t ignore the signs any longer.

VIDEO: 2021 Interview with Shi Heng Yi

“It’s crazy how strong the universe is. I was just on YouTube and it just kind of popped up in my face one day. That was the perfect timing for it,” he said.

Hall started watching pieces of the interview every night before bed. Before long, he made meditation part of his routine. He credits it with helping him navigate the uncertainty of his final months at Louisville, then his time spent in the transfer portal. He still meditates a few times a week now – sometimes early in the morning before practice, sometimes late at night before bed, but always with the goal of clearing his mind and finding calm amid the chaos.

“I think it keeps me balanced. It allows me to control what I can control,” he explained. “It’s all about how I can go about [finding] solutions and not stressing.”

And now, almost a year after that career night against Virginia – and almost a year after discovering the power of meditation – Georgia Tech’s graduate transfer running back has found a fresh, clear-eyed start in his hometown. The 6-foot, 196-pounder earned his first career ACC Running Back of the Week award for his performance against No. 24 Pittsburgh, rushing for 157 yards on 20 carries in a 26-21 win.  It came against a Pitt defense that hadn’t allowed 100 rushing yards to any of its previous three opponents.

“At the same time they were wearing down, Hassan was really elevating himself and feeding off the fact that we had a chance to go win the game. We put it on his shoulders to do it,” said interim head coach Brent Key.

VIDEO: Hassan Hall Highlights vs. No. 24 Pitt

Hall is quick to point out he didn’t do it alone. His 63-yard run set up Georgia Tech’s game-clinching touchdown with 1:25 left, but his most talked-about run came earlier in the quarter. Facing a third-and-11 at the Pitt 33-yard line, Tech ran Hall on an outside zone play. After fighting for the first five yards, he proceeded to get a mass push from his offensive linemen, who carried him (literally) for a 13-yard gain and a first down.

Hall described the play with the wide-eyed zeal of a kid describing a ride at an amusement park. “My feet were on the ground at first, but the rest was all them. I remember fighting, and I just got lifted up and drove for about 10 [yards]. My feet were off the ground, dangling and all,” he said.

His career at Louisville began with similar enthusiasm, racking up more than 1,200 all-purpose yards as a true freshman in 2019. That included five carries in the Cardinals’ 66-31 blowout loss to, ahem, Georgia Tech (“I have zero words,” Hall laughed when asked for his memories of the game). He earned second-team all-ACC honors as an all-purpose back in 2019 and finished third nationally in yards per kickoff return.

It turned out to be the high-water mark in his Louisville career. When he entered the transfer portal last November, Hall hoped to find a system that would highlight his strengths as a dynamic, fast-twitch playmaker in space. Offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme quickly stood out.

“Chip is an offensive genius. It wasn’t very hard to convince me. I turned on some tape and I was on the way,” he said.

He still knew he’d have to earn his spot. At Tech, he’d be joining a backfield that included the returning Dontae Smith and transfer Dylan McDuffie, a 1,000-yard rusher at Buffalo. Key said learning the run schemes and protections came naturally to him, but he had to improve his ball security. He also, Key noted, had to adjust to the life of a Georgia Tech student.

His first couple games didn’t exactly conjure visions of a game-breaker. Against Clemson and Western Carolina Hall rushed it nine times for 21 yards; take away a 19-yard scamper against WCU and he averaged 0.25 yards per carry. Touted as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, his first three receptions netted him minus-3 yards. He had settled in as Georgia Tech’s primary kick returner, but hadn’t made a runback that would raise any heart rates.

Then came the UCF game, when Hall finished with 54 rushing yards, 40 receiving yards and a 41-yard kick return. His breakout night against Pittsburgh followed a week later. Hall currently has the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any player on the Georgia Tech offense.

“Hassan has a skill set that’s hard to find. He’s fast-fast. He’s got some ability to do some things in the open field,” said running backs coach Mike Daniels.

Hassan Hall - 2022CarriesRushing YardsReceptionsReceiving Yards
First 3 Games1749 (2.9 avg.)42 (o.5 avg.)
Last 2 Games27211 (7.8 avg.)544 (8.8 avg.)

As he mulled his options in the transfer portal, Hall admits that proximity to home was a consideration, but not a priority. Now that he’s at Georgia Tech, the product of Maynard Jackson High realized how misguided he was.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family, so to do it here at home, with my family alongside, that’s a dream come true,” he said.

He’ll have a second homecoming this Saturday when Georgia Tech faces Duke on Homecoming at Bobby Dodd Stadium (4 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports). Hall has had the hot hand lately, but he knows he’ll have to earn his opportunities all over again. Like Key said, by 8:30 a.m. on Monday, the Pitt game was history. But Hall is hungry to validate that win with Georgia Tech’s first winning streak since 2018.

“The talent is all there. It’s a great football team. I don’t think people are going to be sleeping on us,” he said.

He’ll look to continue making impact plays on the ground – with a little meditation to keep him grounded along the way.

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