Jan. 29, 2013
By John Van Winkle, Air Force Academy Public Affairs
An Air Force Academy graduate and San Francisco 49ers wide receiver arrived in New Orleans Sunday for Super Bowl XLVII.
Capt. Chad Hall, an Air Force reservist,was signed to the 49ers practice squad Nov. 27 for scout team duty, wearing No. 14. He was released Dec. 14 as the team juggled its active and practice squad rosters but Hall left an impression on the coaches, who signed the 5'8, 187-pound Hall back onto the practice squad three days later.
"I've been preparing every week and I was ready to go every week, in case I was called up," Hall said. "Every week usually the defense has me play the role of their opponent's quickest receiver and slot receiver in practice. I'll do anything I can help in that way, and have been doing that ever since the first day I got here. Over the past couple of weeks, the offense has put me in for plays that are designed for me."
Hall has also been working as a backup punt and kick returner. "Hopefully, I can work my way into that role for next year."
The 49ers moved Hall up to the active roster Jan. 19, which allowed him to suit up for the NFC championship game against his hometown team, the Atlanta Falcons, Jan. 20. "I love what I do, I love being able to put on a football helmet every day and able to compete physically and mentally," Hall said. There's not many jobs you get to compete physically with everybody on every day.It's a tough job mentally and physically, but I love what I do."
Hall attributes his success to his Air Force background.
"The rigors of the Air Force Academy just furthered my discipline and my work ethic," hel said. "For the cadets at the Academy now, I'd say just because you go to the Academy, it doesn't mean you can't follow your dreams and do anything you want, whether it's right away or after finishing your service commitment. Whether it's flying an aircraft or playing professional sports, you just keep on grinding and keep on fighting for that goal. If you work hard enough, your dreams can come true.
"It's not easy, but the Air Force definitely got me prepped for that," he added. The magnitude of the rare opportunity be part of the Super Bowl team hasjust began to sink in.
"You think back to when you played football in your backyard at 6 years old, and now you're going to play in the Super Bowl -- only about 120 guys every year get to play in the Super Bowl. It's not something that happens often, so it's amazing," He said.
Hall's journey to the Super Bowl started at the Academy, wherehe lettered for three years offense during his junior season in 2006. He started all 12 games at halfback and led the team in rushing with 784 yards.
As a senior, Hall moved from halfback to flanker. But wherever Hall lined up, he was a weapon for the Falcons and a headache for opposing defenders, avergaging just more than 206 all-purpose yards per game. He led the 2007 Falcons in rushing and receiving with 230 rushes for 1,478 yards, 15 touchdowns , 50 receptions for 524 yards, and one touchdown. On special teams, Hall was the primary punt and kick returner, returning 36 punts and kickoffs for a combined 681 return yards. It was this potential that got the attention of NFL teams, but as an Academy graduate, Hall had a five-year active duty service commitment to fulfill after graduating in 2008.
Defense Department policy required him to serve at least 24 months of active duty before applying for an early release from active duty to transfer to the Guard or Reserve after being signed to play professional sports so he went undrafted but earned a tryout for his hometown Atlanta Falcons minicamp. They didn't offer a contract. A later tryout with the Buffalo Bills had similar results.
Hall began his active duty career as a maintenance officer in the 421st Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, but kept his goal of playing pro football alive and worked out at the University of Utah's Pro Day in March of 2010. It was there that Philadelphia Eagles scouts signed him, giving him his first shot at playing pro football. Hall then transferred to the Air Force Reserve and pursued his NFL dreams. Hall played in eight games in the 2010 season, starting once. He ended the season with 11 catches for 115 yards and his first NFL touchdown, along with nine rushes for 29 yards.
His 2011 and 2012 seasons started the exact same way.
"It was my third year with the Eagles," he said. "For the first two years after camp, they released me and brought me back, and I ended up playing. I busted my butt for three years, and if they didn't think I could play for them from the beginning of the season, I thought it was time to try for another team." As the 2012 regular season rolled on, Hall kept training and staying in top physical condition, waiting for his next NFL opportunity. He got a couple of calls, and two tryouts. But nothing happened until San Franciscocalled him.
Now, Hall can become the latest in a very short list of Air Force Academy graduates to make it to the Super Bowl. That list currently sits at four: Chad Hennings (defensive tackle, 1993, 1994 and 1996), Steve Russ (linebacker, 1998-1999), Bryce Fisher (defensive end, 2006) and Joe Lombardi (quarterback coach, 2010).
"It's very special, because it's one of the greatest sporting events in the world and certainly the greatest sporting event in our nation," Hennings said. "But to be able to play on that type of stage at a professional level, it's the pinnacle of professional football.
"You appreciate the sacrifice of making it to a Super Bowl and winning it," he added. "But then it's like, `Hey we won one, but let's go get ready to win another one.'"
Hennings also remembers what it took to get to that pinnacle of professional sports: for him, it started with his time at the Air Force Academy.
"My Air Force Academy class ring means more to me than my Super Bowl rings, because it laid the foundation of professional success I had. That's where I learned the truths about honor, commitment, and integrity that helped me when helped me as a fighter pilot, helped me as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, and helped me in my professional life after football."
The second Air Force Academy graduate to win a Super Bowl as a player is Steve Russ, he graduated from the Academy in 1995 after being a four-year letterman at linebacker, and was a seventh-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos. Following two years of active duty, Russ was signed to the Broncos active roster in 1997. He would go on to play for the Broncos through 2000, and won two Super Bowl championship rings playing with the Broncos in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
"It was pretty cool, at the same time, you want to win the game. It sinks in after the game in my opinion. That's when it hits you," said Russ. He is now the Air Force Academy football team's assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and inside linebacker coach, but he remembers the pace of his Super Bowls all too well.
"Those first couple days for a player are pretty hectic because everybody's focused on practicing for that game, while trying to deal with getting tickets for friends and family, setting the family up and so on. Then you get to the site of the Super Bowl the week prior and there's all the press and other activities. So there's a lot of distractions," he added.
"At that point, your team's leadership and everyone on the team has got to sit down, buckle down and get to work," said Russ. "The biggest thing during Super Bowl week and the game itself is to stay focused on what you have to do, and whatever your role is, you got to be able to execute well and not let the stage and all the distractions take away from that, because when the ball is kicked off, it's a game." That game, for Chad Hall, will be Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.