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Bryce Hall is the Best Cornerback in the Country

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Physically gifted, with no bad habits to break, he was the perfect canvas upon which Nick Howell could paint.

“More so than the accolades or the awards, I wanted to be remembered for how I impacted the people that were here -- someone that really helped people, not someone that was just focused on being a football player."
~Bryce Hall

Bryce Hall was a two-star recruit out of Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that primarily played wide receiver in high school. Not only was Virginia his lone power five offer, it was his only FBS offer.

“Coach (Nick) Howell called me during basketball season and told me he was going to switch me over to safety, originally,” Hall recalled. “He had come to my basketball games and seen that I was able to move laterally when I was defending players. They asked me, on my official visit, which position I would rather play and I said either one. I think there was a need at the time for defensive backs and I’m so glad that they made that switch.”

On the one hand, that lack of reps as a defensive back could have put him behind the eight ball early on. However, in some ways, that same inexperience helped him become the player that he is today. A blank slate with all the athletic traits desired to play the position, he was malleable. Physically gifted, with no bad habits to break, he was the perfect canvas upon which Howell could paint.

“I didn’t really know how to play the position, so I was just doing everything the coaches were telling me,” he confirmed. “I would try to study what the best do at that position. After a lot of failure, after getting beat a lot, after having days where I was very upset and didn’t know if I was going to get it, I started to slowly progress.”

Slowly is a relative term. He appeared in all twelve games as a true freshman, earned his first start in week seven, against Pitt, and kept the job ever since.

With increasing comfortability, he started to break through in 2017, posting an interception, nine pass breakups, and a forced fumble, but 2018 was his pièce de résistance.

From the ACC Cornerback OAYP Rankings:

In a stacked cornerback class, not only in the ACC but nationally, Bryce Hall still stands out from the pack. He’s a big, long, fluid athlete with plenty of speed -- basically the perfect modern cornerback. A starter since he was a freshman, all that experience finally came to the forefront last year as he garnered All-American honors, led the nation in pass breakups and total passes defended, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ second best CB overall and in coverage, second only to Washington’s Byron Murphy. Bearing all that in mind, I feel comfortable calling Hall the best returning cornerback in college football.

His OAYP score also tops that of any returning SEC cornerback and, in all likelihood, will remain the highest even after the national rankings are released. So, yes, he is the best cornerback in the country. Don’t expect him to say that, though.

“I think that’s for you guys to decide,” he told the media at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. “I don’t really compare myself to anyone else, I just try to be the best that I can be. I just try to control what I can control and let the results fall where they may.”

That in mind, it was a surprise to some that he opted to return to school. More than a couple of draft analysts have said that he could have been the first cornerback taken in the 2019 NFL Draft.

“I talked to a couple of people and had done some deep thinking, but I wanted to be sure of the decision. I had to pray on it and get some wisdom, get real insight on what I wanted to do. I felt like, in my heart, that God was telling me to come back,” he explained.

“I think the biggest thing was not so much my play, like on-field, but more preparing myself mentally, my character, being a leader, being more vocal, being someone that will step up and help people and share my knowledge and understanding from life and from the game of football. Usually I lead by example and don’t really say too much, but now I have to communicate more and be more vocal. I think that’s part of my progression as a man, so that’s been huge for me this offseason.”

Now, with the 2019 season on the horizon, Hall is preparing to try to top one of the most impressive cornerback campaigns in recent memory. It’s hard to imagine many players even capable of repeating a year like that, much less improving upon it, but there’s no arguing the trajectory that he’s on. He’s certainly putting in the work to do so, apparently even finding his own private film nook at the facility.

“Our film guy, Luke, has a little comfy spot, so I plop myself down in there. They have TV’s in the office. It’s a new thing they have set up. I have my own space. It’s a cool spot and I’ve just been planting myself in there for awhile.”

As he diligently continues to improve his craft, the preseason award recognition is already trickling in, but he doesn’t concern himself with that.

“It’s a huge honor just to get recognized, but at the same time, I try not to buy too much into that because if you dwell too much on your past accomplishments you can get complacent. It’s cool. It’s nice to see, but I don’t pay too much attention to that. I’m just focused on being better than I was a year ago.”

He continued, “More so than the accolades or the awards, I wanted to be remembered for how I impacted the people that were here -- someone that really helped people, not someone that was just focused on being a football player… Someone who impacted the community and made it a better place.”

Bryce Hall is the best cornerback in the nation. He’s the best defender in the ACC. But he would never say that.

Cornerbacks are known for being brash, for letting anyone that will listen know how good they are, and even some people that won’t.

Not Bryce Hall, though. He doesn’t need to.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP