COLUMBUS — Spending a lot of time in a McDonald’s restaurant rarely ends up being a good decision, but it may have been the reason Michael Hall is now a top-100 football prospect.
Hall spent his freshman season at Cleveland’s Benedictine High School. But his family had recently moved to Streetsboro in order to be closer to where his mother, Lynda, worked. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle wanted to return to play his sophomore year for the Bengals, though it was a decision that would have required a nearly two-hour round-trip drive to and from school each day.
It’s what he wanted to do, and Lynda was fine with it, too. She was going to support her son, even if it meant a lot of driving for her.
“It was like a 45-minute drive from Cleveland from to Streetsboro, and then back to Cleveland,” Lynda Hall told Lettermen Row. “Benedictine was willing to do whatever they could do to try to keep him, but ultimately I left it up to Mike. It was his decision.”
It wasn’t an easy choice. Benedictine is a big, talent-rich program that produces Division I athletes regularly. It’s the school that recent NFL draft picks Jerome Baker and Justin Layne hailed from, and it’s a team with a long, storied tradition of winning.
Streetsboro didn’t have any of that. In fact, in the last 50 years, there hadn’t been a single scholarship Ohio State signee from the school. Hall was ready to head back to Benedictine when he got a summer job designed to put a few bucks in his pocket. It’s where his story changed.
“I met a kid named Andrew Douglas,” Michael Hall told Lettermen Row. “He kept bugging me every day. He’s the one that made me come to Streetsboro, actually. We’d seem to go [to work together at McDonald’s] every day at the same time, so I’d see him all the time and he’d always bug me. ‘You should come play at Streetsboro,’ and stuff like that.
“He’d bring in a lot of the other football players and they’d tell me they needed me on their team, so it was in my head every day.”
It was an easy decision for Douglas, now a freshman at Ashland University. Hall could help his team.
“I felt like he could make a huge impact on our team at the time,” Douglas told Lettermen Row. “And he lived up to it. I saw he wanted to work hard and he had the motivation so every day when we worked together, I just keep at him telling him: ‘Come play for Streetsboro.'”
The persistence paid off: Michael Hall stayed. But like the shake machine at every McDonald’s everywhere, he needed work.
He didn’t play varsity football during his freshman season at Benedictine, and hadn’t fully committed to the game. He’s the first to admit that and gives credit to an assistant coach for the Rockets helping him figure it out.
“One of our coaches, Lonnell Harrison, he was in my ear a lot, motivating me, helping me,” Hall said. “He’s one person I know I owe a lot to.”
Understanding potential is a challenge for most young football players. Hall’s growth didn’t come without reservations, or questions. He struggled with the lack of success on the field for his team, during his sophomore year especially, and at times told his mom that maybe a transfer back to Benedictine was the best course.
“I feel like I needed that sophomore season,” Hall said. “It was my first year on varsity, and I needed it to get serious about my grades and stuff. But it was a reality check on the field, for sure. I knew we weren’t going to win every game. But it was a wake up call.”
It didn’t take long for Michael Hall to wake up. Harrison, a cousin of NFL great James Harrison, could see the defensive tackle was no longer content just being a good player. He started to bring others with him.
“He’s taken on the leadership role and our young players listen and follow his lead now,” Harrison told Lettermen Row. “His work ethic rubs off on our younger players, they look up to him now. He’s definitely elevated the level of play at Streetsboro. They see now they can be as successful as Mike and that to get to the next level, you have to have that work ethic.”
Getting to the next level is one piece of the puzzle. Learning to deal with the things that come with it is another. Streetsboro has never seen a football player get the attention Michael Hall does.
“It was new to everyone at the school,” Lynda Hall said. “New to the principal, who had to change the whole setup. Coaches were coming every day to see Michael. They had even given him his own mailbox in the office at school.
“It was very overwhelming to everyone, to the school, to Michael and overwhelming to me also. I was getting coaches texting me randomly, and I was like, ‘How did you get my number?’ I didn’t know who they were.”
When Ohio State offered Michael Hall last September in the early portion of his junior season, things kicked into overdrive. The family had intended to wait out his recruitment a bit, seeing other schools before making a choice. But the intense pressure of the process was something “she couldn’t do until June or later,” and there was no reason for her son to wait to commit when he pulled the trigger in early February.
It didn’t lead to the relief that his mom had hoped. Colleges kept calling. Heck, high schools were calling, and the pressure of everyone needing something from Hall got to be too much. Days after he committed to Ohio State, he was in the hospital.
“The week after we committed, I had to take him to the hospital,” Lynda Hall said. “He couldn’t move his neck. There was so much tension and pressure that he couldn’t even move his neck. It was just coaches calling, even after we committed. It was overwhelming. It was too much.”
Months later, things have calmed down for Michael Hall. He’s growing into the notoriety that comes with being an Ohio State commit, like he had to learn how to lead at Streetsboro.
“I kind of just adjusted to it,” Hall said. “It was weird, I went from being someone that no one knew to everyone around the country knowing my name and calling me all the time. I had to learn to talk to my coaches, my family and other people about problems I was having and what was going on.
“I had to mature quickly. Now, it’s all business, there’s no time to play around. It’s definitely a little bit crazy. But at the same time, you have to humble yourself because you really can’t get too cocky with it, you know, don’t get too carried away.”
It wasn’t an easy road for Michael Hall to where he is now. But he bet on himself, and Hall and the people of Streetsboro are loving it.