For journeymen like Panthers defensive end Alex Hall, the road less traveled isn’t always available.
The Maryland native is one of five defensive ends on the Panthers roster and is competing for a spot with Wes Horton and Frank Alexander.
Hall, who attended Saint Augustine’s in Raleigh, has played for seven different teams in seven years: five NFL teams and two in Canada.
Not recruited out of high school, the only major college that contacted him about playing football was the University of Connecticut – a school transitioning into Division I.
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“I wasn’t heavily recruited at all,” he said. “I went to a college jamboree that had a bunch of schools and St. Augustine’s was one of them. They were just renewing the football program there. They wanted me on board, so I went.”
Of the 30 games Hall played for the Falcons, he started 29. He holds the school record for most sacks and most tackles for loss. He was the only player from the CIAA drafted in 2008.
As the only Falcons player in the league, he is the face of St. Augustine’s football in the NFL.
“Nobody else,” he said, laughing. “I’m it.”
Hall’s tumultuous journey back to North Carolina was one filled with a fair share of pink slips. After being released by Cleveland, Philadelphia, Arizona and New York, Hall signed a deal with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League in 2012. For two years, Hall was a standout defensive end – earning All-Star accolades and collecting 16 sacks in his final season. He was traded from Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the 2013 season.
He believes that his stops in Canada were a learning experience, but his goal was always to get back to the NFL.
“I had a lot of fun up there,” he said. “I learned a lot. I got to see a different side of North America.”
His chance to return came in April 2014, when he signed a deal with the Panthers.
“My first reaction was, ‘People are going to start calling me for tickets,’ ” Hall joked.
He said he notices a difference in his game since being away from the NFL.
“Training camp is going even better than I thought,” he said. “Being in Canada, the field is bigger. Now everything is more compact. Running sideline to sideline seems easier.”
Hall’s NFL stat sheet is modest. In three seasons, he has 39 tackles and three sacks. He’s impressed his teammates in training camp, including defensive tackle Colin Cole.
“Alex is a very explosive defensive end,” Cole said. “Very lengthy – he is probably the tallest defensive end we have. He’s got a lot of athletic ability. I’m not sure what he did up in Canada but he’s done a great job here with us this preseason.”
On Friday, Hall will play in his first NFL game in two years when the Panthers host the Buffalo Bills. It’s a moment he’s been looking forward to for a long time.
“Even though it is just preseason and training camp, I am just thankful every day,” he said. “I want to go out there and prove to myself and to the organization why they brought me here – to produce. I am definitely out to prove that.”