'Reverse Charlie Ward' keeps football dream alive for UNI's Rod Hall

Hey, it’s just like riding a bike, right? Only the bike is trying to take your head off.

“The first two days of (preseason) camp, I had cramps, I felt kind of crazy,” Northern Iowa wide receiver Rod Hall chuckled. “The first two days, I was cramping bad. But I think I would’ve been in perfect shape — in hoops, you do a whole lot more running. I guess I wasn’t using the same muscles like I was in football. That was the biggest thing for me.”

Since then, the path has felt a little less like pedaling uphill. Although nobody ever said attempting a “Reverse Charlie Ward” — jumping from big-time basketball to big-time football — would be easy. For the past three years, the 6-1 Hall was the starting point guard at Clemson, dribbling straight into the teeth of the worst that the Dukes and North Carolinas had to offer.

Fear? At this point, it’s not about fear. It’s about feel.

“I mean, you’ve just got to have a strong mindset,” said Hall, whose Panthers (1-1) visit Cal Poly on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET on ASN. “I was never scared of contact at all.

“Basketball, I was always being physical, getting into contact. There’s a lot of difference (between the two sports). The contact there is different, and the tempo of the game is different. You just kind of get the feel back.”

Hall is taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows players who have exhausted their eligibility in one sport to get a one-year waiver in order to play another. Former Blue Devils point guard Greg Paulus made a similar interschool, intersport switch when he transferred from Duke (basketball) to Syracuse (football) in 2009, where he spent a season as the Orange’s starting quarterback.

“He’s raw,” noted Panthers defensive backs coach Brandon Lynch, who reeled Hall from balmy Augusta, Ga., to frosty Cedar Falls, Iowa, “because he didn’t have a chance to play organized football for a while.

“But as far as the intangibles you look for, they were obvious. He had the quickness. He was explosive. He was a big player. All of the basketball coaches down in Clemson, the first thing that they talked about was how aggressive he was. And the pro scouts were looking at him in the draft or potential free agent as a safety, so I knew he would have the temperament that we look for.”

Temperament. Vision. Moxie. Last winter, Hall was second on the Tigers in scoring (9.2); in 2013-14, he ranked seventh in the ACC in assists (143) and ninth in assists per game (4.0).

“When I was (at Clemson), I could’ve played both (sports),” the senior wideout said. “(Football) coach (Dabo Swinney), every time I saw him, he would mess with me. But I knew it was going to be real tough just trying to balance out both sports AND school.”

The goods were always there. Hall had played organized football since the age of 9 and was named all-state as a wideout in 2010 at Augusta’s Laney High School by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after scoring 13 touchdowns and amassing more than 1,200 receiving yards.

“He attacks the ball at its highest point,” Lynch noted. “He’s physical.”

Hall hung up his spikes, more or less, after that, but his prep stardom was immortalized on YouTube. The Laney highlight reel made the rounds, and a handful of pro scouts, once his basketball eligibility was up, asked this past spring if they could work him out, run a few drills, just to see the numbers. A chiseled 208 pounds, Hall reportedly sported a 35.5-inch vertical and clocked a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash.

“They gave me good, positive feedback,” Hall said.

But few guarantees. The NFL's Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints showed interest. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly offered a slot with their practice squad if he attended mandatory rookie mini-camp. Hall declined, as it conflicted with his graduation ceremony.

“All of a sudden, I just got an NFL workout,” Hall recalled. “I mean, (it went) pretty well and I could’ve gone to a couple different mini-camps and stuff.”

But none of the free-agent offers felt like a great fit. So Hall figured: If I could draw that kind of interest cold, imagine how much better I’d look after a season devoted entirely to the gridiron, just to shake the rust off?

“I felt like, if I could get another pro day workout, I could do better,” said Hall, who made his collegiate football debut at Iowa State on Sept. 5, catching one pass for a 2-yard gain. “I could do better, even though I thought I did good having not played football for four years.”

Lynch, also a native of Augusta, had seen Hall as a high-schooler while he was on the staff at Lenoir-Rhyne. Once the former Clemson guard visited the Cedar Valley, he canceled his other shopping trips.

“I mean, I missed football, sort of,” Hall said.

He missed the ride. Cramps and all.

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