College football coaches and scouts get things wrong all the time. They certainly did with Cade Hall, who lived in Morgan Hill until his sophomore year of high school. The San Jose State junior has played a pivotal role in the Spartans’ rise to national prominence this season, earning Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors to go along with being named a USA Today All-America second-team selection.
Hall, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end, has racked up 10 sacks and 12 tackles for losses, the latter ranking second nationally among all Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) players. SJSU is enjoying one of its finest seasons in program history, taking a 7-0 record—the first time it has hit that mark since 1939—into the Arizona Bowl game against Ball State on Dec. 31.
“I saw it (success of the team) coming, no doubt,” Hall said. “I knew we had a really good team and it was just a matter of time before we did something special. For myself (player of the year honors), no, I did not see any of this coming.”
Still, it should come as no surprise that Hall has been a tour de force in 2020. He showed flashes of brilliance in his first two seasons, and chalked up this year to a confluence of factors, starting with renewed focus once the 2019 season was over.
“This has been my best off-season preparation-wise, hands down,” he said. “I’ve been more disciplined, established better eating habits, better lifting habits and sticking to a routine. That stuff really makes a big difference so once I got into the season, I had a really solid base to lean back on. … (Also), we’ve had the same coaching staff for three years and being really comfortable with everything makes a difference, too.”
Hall also credited the overall talent on the team that allows him to make plays. Hall, who grew up playing for the Pop Warner Morgan Hill Raiders and later the Almaden Mustangs, is the son of former NFL player Rhett Hall. Having watched hours of tape of his dad—who spent eight years in the league, including being a part of the San Francisco 49ers 1995 Super Bowl winning team—Cade said their style of play is unbelievably alike.
“Mostly his motor and relentless style of play,” Cade said, when asked what he learned from watching his dad’s film. “It’s also weird for me to watch because we have similar moves.”
Cade also credited his mom, Juli, who does bodybuilding competitions, for teaching him valuable lessons. “She has taught me so much (about focus, discipline and work ethic),” Cade said. “A lot about eating (for performance) because bodybuilders have to have strict diets, so it’s been helpful in that way.”
SJSU is ranked 19th in the nation and is coming off a 34-20 win over Boise State in the Mountain West Conference championship game. After hoisting the title trophy in the postgame ceremony, Hall experienced something truly special in the locker room afterward.
“(To put things in context) as a team we do this thing where we put our arms around each other and sing Lean on Me,” he said. “And we do it before games. Once we made it to the locker room after the game we did it, and that is a moment I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
It’s easy to see why that period of time was so emotional for the Spartans. Their season, like many others, have been thrown into disarray due to the virus. Before the season even started, SJSU had to relocate to remote Humboldt State University in Arcata—325 miles north of campus—for 12 days to train because teams in Santa Clara County weren’t cleared for full-contact practice.
With strict Covid safety and health protocols in place, this was a pure business trip. The Spartans didn’t know it then, but the turn of events set them up for a historic season.
“We were staying in the freshman dorms on campus, and it was pretty much football all day, everyday,” he said. “It was quite an experience. Obviously, it (relocating) wasn’t how we wanted to spend two weeks, but at the same time, it helped us get a lot closer as a team and we didn’t have any distractions, so that helped us out.”
Hall didn’t need to manufacture motivation coming out of Bellarmine in 2018. Most recruiting services only listed him as a two-star prospect, with 247Sports rating him just the 391st player in California his graduating year. SJSU was the only Division I program to offer him a full-ride scholarship coming out of high school.
“Absolutely, that was a motivating factor (proving the ratings wrong),” he said. “I never let myself get bitter about it, but I did let it motivate me. There are a lot of guys who I felt I was better than getting much bigger offers (to play in college). That’s how I approach games—I get to play teams who didn’t think I was good enough.”