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Ben Hall’s Sweet Life

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Weight rooms to pound cake, Ben Hall's life has certainly changed.

I started teaching myself how to bake. I've never been to school and have never been taught anything, just straight kitchen hours. I started putting in the work and trial and error has gotten me to where I am.
~Ben Hall

 As a football player, Ben Hall had all of the ingredients. He stood 6'5'', weighed 265 pounds and was a dynamic athlete with a bullish style of play. Hall was always hands-on, regarded as one of the toughest blockers on the team and catching 31 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns in a four-year career at Clemson. Ultimately, Hall even played professionally, competing at the game's highest level. Attitude made Hall a force to be reckoned with. 

"I didn't care what your name was, I didn't care how many Super Bowls or how many Pro Bowls," he recalled. "My thing was it was me and you and you have to try and beat me one-on-one."

Life after football didn't necessarily go as Hall expected; now, it comes in a single-serving, mini-packs and, for big fans, orders of a dozen.  

The last college football game Hall played in was the 2004 Peach Bowl, a title that now has a very literal application. The former tight end currently owns and operates "Big Ben's Desserts" in South Carolina and is a pastry chef with an impressive collection of accolades and a growing following. Hall both conceptualizes and creates his own treats and toppings, goodies that have received rave reviews. Weight rooms to pound cake, Hall's life has certainly changed. His mindset, however, has not.

"Look at yourself from a bird's eye-view and ask 'what am I good at?' or 'what can I do?'" Hall proposed. "I think football plays a big role in where I am today because it gives you that confidence that you can do anything that you put your mind to: hard work, dedication and perseverance. It teaches you about failure and success and it teaches you about adversity."

Hall's road to the patisserie was not on the route tree. Long interested in cooking, the process began, and continues, with curiosity. The more Hall tried, the more he enjoyed. As was the case with his first love, football, practice became Hall's profession. Countless hours in the kitchen resulted in unforeseen opportunities, open doors Hall ran through at full speed.

It all started with a tried and true southern delicacy.

"I always knew I could cook banana pudding, that was kind of the seed that started everything," Hall continued. "I started putting the banana pudding out there and everyone started challenging me 'can you make a red velvet?' or 'can you make this?' It was nerve-racking and it's still one of the most challenging things I've ever done in my life, believe it or not."

Once his playing career came to a close, Hall had to work to establish his next identity. After some soul-searching, Hall found insight through introspection, meaning through meditation. Suddenly, a new passion started to take shape, forming, slowly at times, in metal pie pans. The end result has been worth the wait. Hall, in baking, has been able to focus on a different challenge, a measuring stick where yards were replaced by yeast.

The most amazing part of Hall's story isn't what he now does, but rather how he got there and why. A simple commitment to a craft has guided Hall forward, with no formal training leading the way. Like with football, Hall has learned through doing in his current role. He is now an award-winning chef. Above all else, the reason behind all of the recipes is a powerful one.        

What cooking has done, for Hall, was keep him connected with others. A people person, Hall has used his desserts as a way to stay engaged and positively impact those around him. Few things bring folks together like good food, a notion Hall is taking full advantage of. Just as a massive stadium is a platform, so, too, is a tiny plate.   

"It's crazy, my passion for people and kids is what drove me to baking," Hall explained. "I needed an outlet, I needed an entrepreneurial route to be able to give more, to give back to my community. So I started teaching myself how to bake. I've never been to school and have never been taught anything, just straight kitchen hours. I started putting in the work and trial and error has gotten me to where I am." 

A vision, one longer than 100 yards and wider than 53 and a third, is coming to fruition. There is a message lining the lemon meringue.

"I call it going pro at whatever you want to be in life. You can go pro as a doctor, or a lawyer or a full-time dad. Anything you want to go pro in, you can do it. That's my message to the kids," Hall shared. "Football is amazing and it's a great opportunity and it can get you a lot of things in life, but also understand what your passion is and find out what other gifts you have and how you can bless someone else by utilizing that."

Elbow-deep in flour, Hall is proud to be a Clemson Tiger. In fact, he takes cupcakes to campus whenever he gets the chance and is working on 30-plus cakes for the team's seniors. Even from afar, last season is one Hall will never forget as the program claimed its second-ever national championship. The tradition of playing for the Tigers is a special one for Hall. Clemson's current success is just the icing on the cake.  

The program's rise has been years in the making. Hall is quick to credit Dabo Swinney for helping the Tigers mix everything together. 

"He is an amazing coach. In football you can have the best players in the country, but it's all about the standards that you set. Dabo brought the conversation to Clemson," Hall detailed. "His first day, one of the first things he claimed was winning the national title. I think just by putting that conversation in the head of Clemson football, that is what manifested it."

Even after a loss to Syracuse, Hall sees his Tigers making another run. Focus back in place, the defending national champions, he believes, are ready for seconds.

"I think the guys will get a lot hungrier during the playoffs. So, I think it will continue to show that we want to continue to bring championships back to Death Valley," Hall added.

As a freshman at Clemson, Hall was blocking Julius Peppers, a transition made from linemen to gingerbread men. Some people see life come full-circle; Hall has gone from running curls to frosting swirls. Once a reliable target for a college football power, Hall now has his own go-to favorite. 

"It's a tough one, but I'm going to have to go with my Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake," he smiled. "Fully loaded with fresh strawberries and it's a strawberry cupcake with my secret sauce recipe for my icing. Topped with a delicious, juicy strawberry on top."

Ben Hall has chased his dreams, even as those goals have changed. He has the scars and sweeteners to prove it.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports