Bryce Hall's dream of a football life nearly ended when he sustained a serious ankle injury in Virginia's game against Miami at the Orange Bowl in October 2019. Hall had considered entering the NFL Draft after his junior season, but opted to return for his senior year with the Cavaliers. Once projected as a first- or second-round draft pick, Hall faced months of challenging rehabilitation and an uncertain future.
Not normally a patient person, Hall says his decision to return to Charlottesville ended up being one of the best he's ever made.
"I didn't make a decision on a whim," Hall, 23, told The Official Jets Podcast. "I prayed about it and sought wisdom. I felt it in my heart that the Lord and people said I should come back. There's more for me. I don't regret what I did. If I hadn't come back I never would have met my wife, learned so much and developed and was challenged and was pushed as a leader and as a person. I'm right where I'm supposed to be. You always have your own ideas and plans, but it doesn't always happen. When I look back now that's why I had to go through some things."
Injury aside, Jets GM Joe Douglas and his player personnel staff saw something in Hall (6-1, 202), and used a fifth-round pick, No. 158 overall, to take a chance. In 2018 at Virginia Hall led the nation with 24 PDs and was named All-ACC first team and All-America second team. Before sustaining the fractured ankle injury last year, he tallied 20 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack and 4 PDs.
And now, after three games (two starts) Hall is giving the Jets and their fans a small taste of what he is -- and can be -- capable of in a young, hungry and promising defensive backfield.
He saw his first action in a Monday night game against New England, then started games against the Chargers (7 tackles and 1 TFL) and last week against the Dolphins (7 combined tackles, 1 PD).
"It's been a little over a year since the last time I played, so I was super excited, and I could barely sleep," Hall said about his NFL debut against the Pats. "It was nice to get out there and get my feet wet and get some contact. It's just been a huge blessing to me being able to get back out here from the injury I had. I'm super grateful. Now I'm ready to get going and continue to grow and get better and attack the next challenge."
In the last two games, Hall faced accomplished wide receivers and held his own. As a starter against the Chargers at Los Angeles, Hall went up against Keenan Allen. Last week, it was DeVante Parker.
"When I walked into that stadium (the new SoFi Stadium the Chargers share with the Rams), it was the most beautiful I've ever played in or seen with my own eyes," Hall said. "That was the moment I was like, 'Wow, I'm here.' I don't take this for granted. I was super grateful."
Hall is quick to give his wife, Anzel Viljoen, a New Zealand native who played on Virginia's field hockey team, credit for helping him navigate the time between his injury and when he finally returned to practice with the Jets, on Oct. 21, a little more than a year after the injury.
"When I broke my ankle I had time to get away from football," Hall said. "Before that I had a go go go focus. She was helping me a lot and we got closer. A friendship grew into a relationship. We dated for six months and got married. It moved quickly. I knew pretty early she was the one I really wanted to be with. It's the best decision I ever made."
Over the summer the two elite athletes solidified their love and relationship in, of all places, the golf course.
"She's more competitive than me in a lot of things," Hall said. "For example, we played golf together this past summer, and our personalities just came out. It was really the first time I had played and she's like 'just get it on the tee and hit it.' I'm trying to analyze swing technique. She was talking trash the whole time, trying to show me up. I had to refrain myself from getting caught up in the minute. She was vocal on the course, very competitive. She knows what I do for a living so she likes to jab at me.
"I'm different from a lot of people who like to yell. I'm more of the type where I'll have a conversation with you, direct. I'm saying things rather than yelling and it gets under some people's skin more. I'm calm and it throws people off. It's my angle. I've had more success with that than yelling."
As Hall is well aware, few things are given in the NFL. For now it looks like Hall has played himself into a spot at cornerback in the scheme of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
"I'm living the dream," Hall said. "But this isn't easy. It's not all roses. Everyday is a challenge. Everyone in this league is good. But when you get to step back and be a kid again, it's pretty cool."