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A mature Dante Hall gains new perspective of A&M
as he works toward earning his degree
by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine
His infectious smile still brightens a room as instantaneously and colorfully as plugging in the Christmas tree lights at night. And his engaging personality is still as effervescent and sparkling as a freshly opened bottle of champagne.
Even the compact, sleek and muscular physique—at 35 years old and after nine seasons in the NFL—still looks the same as the last time he appeared in a Texas A&M uniform during the fall of 1999.
In so many ways, former A&M star running back and return specialist Dante Hall hasn’t changed a bit. At first glance, he seems like the same ol’ 5-foot-8, 190-pound sparkplug who once captivated reporters with comical quotes and baffled opposing defenders with mesmerizing moves that made it seem as if he had eyes in the back of his head.
But sit down with him for more than a few minutes, and it is obvious that that the 1996 Big 12 Freshman of the Year is actually a much different person than the young man whose bright star at A&M flamed out toward the end of a disappointing ’99 season. After three sensational seasons to begin his collegiate career, Hall was unceremoniously booted off the team with two games left in the 1999 regular season.
According to the one-sentence statement released to the media on Nov. 8, 1999, Hall was dismissed for disciplinary reasons. But more than 14 years later, Hall provides full and succinct disclosure regarding his departure.
“To put it bluntly, I was a knucklehead,” Hall says. “I was an immature, naïve knucklehead. If I could do it all over again, I would handle it so much differently; it would be handled 100 percent differently. Unfortunately, you can’t go back in time.”
Fortunately, Hall, the first A&M player in school history with more than 2,000 career rushing yards and over 500 yards in both career punt return and kickoff return yards, can come back home to finish what he started. A much more mature, wise and grounded Hall returned to Texas A&M in the spring of 2014, working toward completing the 25 hours he had left to earn his degree.
Hall was an assistant football coach last fall at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, Calif., where he fell head over heels in love with the coaching profession. His long-term goal is to become a head coach at the collegiate level, and in addition to being back at A&M to finish his degree, he worked with the Aggies’ current football program this spring as a student-coach, assisting the wide receivers and kick returners.
Interestingly, another student-coach who worked with the Aggies this spring was D’Andre “Tiki” Hardeman, who once shared time in the backfield with Hall in the mid- and late-1990s.
“What are the odds of Tiki and me being back here at the same time chasing our degrees?” mused Hall, the Aggies’ leading rusher in 1997 and ’98. “God has a funny way of bringing people together. It’s great to be back here, and the crazy thing is that I have been noticed on campus. I’m at least 15 years older than most of the students now, but after my horticulture class during the first week of this semester, I walked out and a bunch of guys come up to me and say, ‘Hey, are you Dante Hall? Can we get a picture?’ I also had a professor who recognized me.
“I still feel like a kid at heart, but I’m an old man now. And that’s OK, because I am much wiser. I have such a different perspective on everything now, even going to class. Fifteen years ago, I was going to class because I had to. Now, I am sitting on the front row, soaking everything up and enjoying the class work. What really excites me is the idea of getting my Aggie ring. I don’t wear jewelry, but I will definitely wear my Aggie ring because of what it symbolizes. I will be so proud to wear that ring.”
Likewise, former A&M head coach R.C. Slocum, the man who ultimately made the final call in dismissing Hall in ’99, says he will be beaming with pride when Hall receives his Aggie ring and diploma.
Hall never violated NCAA rules or failed any drug tests during his playing days at A&M. He wasn’t a malcontent or a law-breaking thug. And he wasn’t disrespectful toward coaches or teammates. Hall’s biggest issue during the late 1990s was his immaturity and his propensity to park wherever he pleased on campus…even spaces reserved for the president or Board of Regents members.
“Part of my role as a coach was to shape guys and help them grow up,” Slocum said. “Dante never did anything really bad, but he was probably a little spoiled and I had talked to him about the parking issues and tickets he was receiving. I told him I couldn’t park in the Board of Regents spaces, either, but he continued to park where he wanted and then missed a practice and a team meeting.
“Honestly, if I had it to do all over again, I would handle it differently, too. But at the time, I felt like I had to make a statement in front of the team. After he was dismissed, I met with Dante and told him I would do whatever I could to help him pursue his dream of playing in the NFL and that I wanted him to live up to his potential. I actually called Carl Peterson (former GM of the Kansas City Chiefs) and told Carl that Dante was a great person and that the Chiefs wouldn’t have any issues with him.”
- R.C. Slocum
The Chiefs selected Hall in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, and he appeared in five games on special teams as a rookie under then-head coach Gunther Cunningham. But Hall’s big break was the Chiefs’ decision to hire Dick Vermeil to replace Cunningham prior to the ’01 season. Vermeil then sent Hall to Scotland to learn how to play wide receiver in NFL Europe.
Hall was initially opposed to the move and the trip overseas. But it was a blessing. Hall played in 13 games with KC in 2001 and then became a national phenomenon the next year. Hall returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns in ’02 in addition to catching 20 passes and rushing 11 times. He did so many things for the Chiefs that he became known as “the X-factor.”
He appeared in consecutive Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro in 2002-03 as a kick returner, and in 2010, he was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s. He’s been credited for revolutionizing the return game and paving the way for wide receivers/return specialists like Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs. He authored a book, “X-Factor” in 2004, appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine as a possible MVP candidate and was one of the biggest names in the game.
“I could not have dreamed it all up in terms of everything that happened,” said Hall, who rushed for 113 yards in the 1998 Big 12 title game against Kansas State. “My dream was to make it in the NFL, and then all of the sudden, I’m on (The Late Show with) David Letterman and meeting a person who I held in tremendously high regard, (rapper) Jay-Z. I related to a lot of his music because he didn’t have a father, either, and he’d been forced to overcome some of the issues I had dealt with in growing up without a father. Being in the national spotlight was crazy good in some ways. It was also crazy in a lot of bad ways, too.”
Hall spent seven of his nine NFL seasons in Kansas City, and early in his career with the Chiefs, he accepted an invitation to attend the A&M-Kansas game in Lawrence as Slocum’s guest.
“I called and asked him to come to the game, and we had a great visit prior to the game,” Slocum said. “He told me that he understood what I was trying to teach him back then, and we parted as good friends. I am very proud of him coming back to school, and I have always loved Dante. Through the years, we’ve played golf together and become good friends. It’s been a pleasure to watch him grow and mature, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do next.”
While Slocum and Hall mended fences long ago, Hall says he didn’t really regain his love for A&M until Cathy Capps, assistant athletic director for the A&M Lettermen’s Association, invited him back to Aggieland to serve as an honorary captain prior to a 2009 game. Then, following the conclusion of the 2011 season, Hall says he was thoroughly impressed by the progressive move A&M made in hiring Kevin Sumlin as head coach.
“Cathy Capps and the Lettermen’s Association bringing me back opened my eyes, and then the hiring of Coach Sumlin really caught my attention,” said Hall, who is engaged to be married this summer to a woman he met while on vacation in Miami in 2005. “After my final year in the NFL (2008), I took some time off and then went and got my personal trainer certification because I’m really into personal fitness, along with my real-estate certification because I lost a lot of money during the recession. I told myself I would never invest in something I didn’t understand again.
“I did some other business things, as well, and did some private training with kids. I was preaching education to them, and they were like, ‘Hey, what do you have your degree in?’ That got me thinking, and I had always promised my mom (Carolyn Hall) I would get my degree. Then when I started coaching last year in Long Beach, I found my passion, and I knew I needed to finish my degree to go anywhere in coaching. So, here I am, back in Aggieland after all these years.”
He’s back…and better than ever. Hall’s personality made him easy to like the first time he attended Texas A&M. His more mature perspective on all things makes him easy to admire now.
With a characteristic smile, he even acknowledges he’s taking a much different approach to parking on campus these days.
“Once I’m on campus,” says Hall, who commutes daily to College Station from Houston, “I ride my bike. No more parking tickets for me.”
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- The 12th Man (4/8)
- Luke Joeckel (4/1)
- Big Event (3/25)
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