For this weeek’s segment of Chatting with…we have a gem. With the 49ers soon to face off against the high-scoring New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, we thought who better to interview than a 49ers player. Yes, that’s right, this week’s interview is with Derek Hall, a Rockhurst High School graduate, former Stanford player, and currently a 49ers practice squad player. The 6’5, 307 pound tackle has been working hard to make the active roster and was apart of the Stanford football team that beat Virginia Tech in the 2011 Orange Bowl.
kcyoungguns: How difficult was the transition from Rockhurst to the Division 1 powerhouse Stanford University?
Derek Hall: It was a pretty difficult transition just because whenever you go up a level in competition the guys get bigger, stronger, and faster. You know it takes a while to get used to it to find your role. It took me a while; I didn’t end up starting until senior season because that’s when I finally figured out that offensive tackle was the best position for me. It’s just really challenging because you’re in a new environment and you’re at the bottom of the food chain and you just have to work your way up.
KC: How did you climb through the ranks to eventually become a starter at Stanford? What did it take?
DH: I actually ended up having to change positions because it just took me a while to figure out that I was better served playing offensive line then defensive line just because of my natural abilities. Therefore, I had kind of a slow start and eventually as I got better and guys ahead of me graduated I was presented with my opportunity and I found tremendous motivation to fight my up to getting the starting job. It actually all started after I lost my mom; I made a vow to myself that I would not graduate without her getting to see me play again. It just all fueled me to play harder than I ever had done before. Eventually when I was presented with the opportunity to start at tackle I just did everything I could to take the position. I was then able to have a really good senior year, and it all turned out well.
KC: Last year, you guys beat Virginia Tech in the Orange bowl in your first bowl appearance since the Sun Bowl in 2009. What was that feeling like?
DH: It was incredible. It was one of the biggest senses of accomplishment I’ve ever had in my life. It was just a super euphoric moment when you just feel the ultimate joy of everything you’ve worked so hard for culminating in an eruption of a really happy moment. You’re just really happy; you just want to hug everyone especially your teammates and celebrate in the moment together. It was just an amazing moment, one of the best moments of my whole life.
KC: Now we understand you declared for the draft last year and didn’t get drafted. What was the next step? How did you handle the adversity?
DH: You know I didn’t get drafted and it really hurt me. It just hurts your pride when you see guys getting drafted ahead of you that you feel like you could have played better then. But eventually I just shook it off and told myself that I couldn’t let anything break me. Now I kind of have an extra chip on my shoulder because I feel like I should have been drafted, I feel like I was good enough too. I just use that motivation that whatever team picked me up and signed me I was going to prove them wrong and prove to them that they should have drafted me. So I just kept working really hard and training with other guys and once the lockout ended two teams called including the 49ers and they really wanted me. It was good situation because I already knew the coaches there and I loved the Bay Area and it just felt like the right fit for me; especially since I already knew the offense so it would be a much smoother transition playing for the 49ers.
KC: Could you briefly talk about your relationship with old Stanford coach and now head coach of the 49ers Jim Harbaugh? How did that play into your decision?
DH: It had a lot of say in my decision. As an undrafted free agent I enter into the league in a much tougher role. No one is going to give you anything. Therefore if I go to a team where no one knows me I have to work with that team just to try to get them to like me to get them to want to keep me around. Whereas coach Harbaugh and the staff already know me, they know what they’re getting in me. They like me and they care, and therefore they’re willing to coach me up and get me ready. Whenever you have a personal relationship with somebody, you’re going to want to invest more in him or her, so I just knew that it was going to be a better fit.
KC: Currently what is your status on the team and what does that entail?
DH: I’m currently on practice squad trying to get better every week. Practice squad is where you’re apart of the team but you’re not on the active roster list so you’re not technically under a big, binding contract. Therefore, they can replace and let people go as they please throughout the season. Pretty much I practice with the team. I’m there to help give a really good scout look for the defense and get better because the ultimate goal is to train us and get us playing at a high enough level to get on the active roster and eventually play for them. They’re not going to keep practice squad guys around who they don’t think can eventually contribute to the team.
KC: How has the transition from Stanford to the NFL been? How is the competition and intensity different?
DH: The change is incredible. It’s the absolute highest level of football you can get too. The guys are way bigger, stronger, and faster; especially the defensive linemen. It’s absolutely incredible the kinds of athletes these guys are and that was my biggest transition: just playing against guys that are so much better than what I was used to playing with in college. It’s hard at first especially because you’re just so stressed as a rookie because of the environment. They can cut you whenever they want if you underperform so it’s a high intensity environment. But eventually I was able to get my mind right and get used to the conditions and not think about if I were going to get cut today. I just work my hardest and I know that in the end I gave it my all in camp and I just keep telling myself that and it has helped me transition much easier into the NFL; and I’m just working my way up.
KC: Who is your biggest inspiration?
DH: I’d have to say my dad. He’s such a great example of strength and responsibility and taking care of business. I’m so proud of him and all I want to do is emulate the strength and responsibility that he demonstrates everyday, like still raising my family without my mom. He’s just so supportive of everyone, especially me, when I’m handling all of the stress of the NFL right now. Yea, I’d definitely have to say my dad.
KC: When football is over, what’s the next step?
DH: I guess I have to go find a job! I want to work at a technology company because I studied communications and specifically how people interact with media and virtual reality at Stanford. I’m a technology guru so I see myself pursuing some kind of technology job eventually!
We would like to thank Zac Hardwick, who conducted the interview, and Derek Hall for completing it. If you missed them, check out our interviews with the Nebraska commit Mike Rose and the Kansas City Star’s Girls Golfer of the Year Baile Winslow. And remember, if you know someone who should be recognized for the week in our Chatting with… segment, email Blase Capelli at email@example.com or Spencer Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org.