WITH A BOOT ON HIS busted left leg and time on his hands, Arkelon Hall's frustrating first half of the 2006 football season turned out to be the biggest break of his career, the second-year-freshman told CF.C last week. Devastated by the setback, his initial anger gave way to introspection. The upshot? Newfound perspective, and humility, about what it takes to play quarterback in the Pac-10.
"Coming out of high school with a lot of success, you expect to pick up where you left off," he said. "You're not ready (for prime time) but you still think you are. When I got hurt -- when my chance to take over the third (string) spot was ruined -- I really looked within myself. It really got through that I needed to do more."
When he came to WSU from Fresno's Edison High in 2005, Hall was rated by most services as one of the top 15 or 16 prep quarterbacks in the nation. His No. 7 ranking by ESPN.com made him the highest-rated national QB prospect to sign with Washington State since Mark Rypien in 1981.
Via cyberspace, Hall's first 15 months on the Palouse took on a certain intrigue as his dad periodically chimed in that his son wasn't getting a fair shot to compete.
"He was just being a father," Hall said. "I didn't even know about some of the stuff he was saying."
While his proud pop has been low-profile of late, the commentaries had some fans speculating that Arkelon (pronounced are-KEY-lun) might transfer.
"I'm happy here," he said Friday. "I'm not leaving. I chose WSU for a reason. I just have to be patient."
Hall said quarterback coach Timm Rosenbach has been mentor on and off the field. Hall is touched when Rosenbach "says I remind him of him a bit" at this age.
Observers of Pullman High athletics in the early 80s, where Rosenbach was a three-sport standout, remember his beaming self confidence. After his third year at WSU -- when he threw 24 interceptions -- he appeared more grounded. He even asked head coach Dennis Erickson if could move to the defensive side of the ball. Erickson, of course, said no and the rest is part of Quarterback U history.
Hall redshirted in 2005 and came out of spring ball 2006 locked in a dead-heat with Cole Morgan for the No. 3 slot behind junior Alex Brink and sophomore Gary Rogers. But in August, in the first scrimmage of fall camp, the pocket collapsed around Hall as he was passing and he went down. "I knew right away it wasn't good, but I didn't think it was too bad," he said.
What initially was believed to be a high ankle sprain was in fact a broken fibula. Hall was on crutches for nearly three weeks and in a walking cast for six. He returned to practice at mid-season, working first on the scout team and then joining the travel squad starting with the UCLA game. The leg hurt, Hall said, but he was just glad to be back in uniform.
Hall said the forced time off led to soul searching and a truer assessment of his development so far. "I'm grown up now," he says. "To be a college quarterback, knowing everything there is to know or expect, on offense and defense, is necessary. It takes more than a strong arm and leadership skills. Coach Rosenbach will ask us questions during practice -- you don't want to get caught with 'uh...uh...' for an answer."
Today, with the sun officially set on the 2006 campaign, the 6-1, 203-pound Hall says he looks forward to the spring season and is preparing himself in all respects. "I'm back to 100 percent, or close to it, and will be ready for spring ball. I'm in the film room studying, out passing -- I need to work on my touch -- and working hard on explosive drills."
He's doing the explosive work -- running with a parachute, jumping while wearing a weighted vest, etc. -- on Mondays and Wednesdays, while agility workouts are every Tuesday and Thursday. He's throwing the ball all the time, and says three of his frequent targets -- Benny Ward, Finas Rabb and Trevor Mooney -- are looking sharp.
"I know the first and second spots are set, but I'm preparing with the mindset that I'm going to be the starter -- that's how you have to prepare," he said.
The competition for the No. 3 job looks to be a wide open affair with three bona fide contenders in Hall, Morgan and Kansas State transfer Kevin Lopina. All will be third-year sophomores in 2007. Morgan was the No. 3 guy this past season, but saw action in just one game (Idaho) and didn't throw a pass. Lopina, a top prep prospect out of California in 2005, handled the bulk of the Cougars' scout team work this year.
While all five of the Cougar QBs are fierce competitors, Hall said, the bottom line is that they stick together. "We're a group. We're all friends. We're competitors, sure, but we're all cool with each other."
LEAN MACHINE: HALL HAS MUSCLED UP AND LOST ABOUT 15 POUNDS SINCE COMING TO WSU.