A day after the emotional highs of his college graduation in Nashville, Tenn., Port Allen native Andre Hal received news that sent his emotions into orbit.
After receiving a phone call from the NFL’s Houston Texans, Hal learned that the team planned to select him – a standout defensive back for the Vanderbilt Commodores – as the first pick in the seventh round of the NFL draft.
“I had gotten about eight other calls, from the Panthers, Colts, Lions, Tampa Bay… they were calling me asking if I wanted to be a free agent for them,” Hal said. “Then the last call was the Houston Texans and they said ‘hey, he’s about to call your name.’”
Hal, 21, said that he could do nothing but thank God after finally finding where he would call home for the beginning of his career, though he was expecting to hear his name called earlier.
“I didn’t think I was going in the seventh round, I thought I was going to go earlier, but it was great to hear my name called,” he said. “I’m going to make the best of it; and whoever passed up on me is about to get it - they’re going to regret it.
“The chip on my shoulder is the size of Mt. Everest right now. I’m so ready to play, I can’t even explain it.”
Deepi Sidhu, Writer/Columnist for HoustonTexans.com wrote that Hal’s “skillset as a corner and his ability to contribute on special teams as a kick returner make him the type of versatile player that head coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith have been selecting in this year's draft. Hal considers himself a student of the game.”
After his senior season, in which he notched 49 tackles, three interceptions and a league-leading 18 passes defensed, Hal was named to the All-SEC Second Team.
He played 50 games in his college career at Vanderbilt, recording 133 tackles, six interceptions and 37 passes defensed.
Receiving playing time as a true freshman at Vanderbilt, Hal played football for four years and graduated in three-and-a-half.
He said that though he played well and achieved many of his goals on the field, his focus was always on getting his sociology degree.
“I went to school for a whole year straight - I didn’t come home at all because I wanted to do it so I could go train for the NFL draft. So I took 12 hours of classes during the summer, and took 15 hours during the season last season, just to graduate,” Hal said. “The NFL is Not For Long. I’m not going to play all my life. I wanted to get my degree so I could do something after football.”
Hal said that with his sociology degree, he wanted to help local students and athletes by mentoring them.
“Maybe I’ll have a home for kids to come, hang out, talk to, mentor, and show them that they can do it, like me,” he said. “I feel like if they had somebody like that in Port Allen, more people would make it.”
Monday, Hal spent his day mentoring a Port Allen Middle School student. The seventh grader stood in the living room watching post-draft coverage on ESPN, waiting patiently for Hal to complete his interview and head to Port Allen High’s first spring football practice.
Hal said that his mind was set, long ago, that he would become a professional football player, but many don’t have the same tenacity he learned at a young age.
“I always said I’m going to make it. Whatever it takes, I’m going to do it. And I did it,” said Hal. “That’s what I’m trying to show them, that’s why I got the kid with me right now, to show him the ropes. It’s not easy, but it’s not so hard that you can’t make it. We’ve got too much talent in Port Allen to say that only two people have made it to the league.”
Hal and Washington Redskins cornerback Tracy Porter are the only two Port Allen graduates in recent history to be drafted by NFL teams.
Now a Houston Texan, Hal said he thinks he’ll fit in quite well with his team and is excited to get started.
“They play kind of like I did at Vanderbilt – off man, press man, cover 3, so I’ve done that before. I’ll fit right in with them. I think that’s why they drafted me,” he said. “And playing behind Clowney and J.J. Watts – they’re going to rush the passer, so the ball is going to come out quick. It’s going to be fun.”
Hal said that not only is Houston a great fit for his style of play, but the proximity of the city from Port Allen makes it the perfect team for him.
“Houston’s only four hours away, so it’s about to be crazy. All of Port Allen is about to be at the games. I’m happy,” He said. “I’m glad the city is behind me. Hopefully everybody else comes along and we’ll build a big Dre Hal fan base and we’ll take over Houston.”
Hal’s mother, Lisa West Snearl, said that she is ecstatic that her son will be at an organization so close to home.
“We’ve been traveling, the last four years, for eight hours,” she said, explaining that Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tenn., is about an eight hour drive from Baton Rouge. “I really wanted him closer to home.”
Snearl, who raised Hal, along with his two older sisters, in a single-parent home, said that she feels that it was God’s will for Hal to be selected by Houston, and though the wait was a long and tumultuous one, to hear his name called at the top of the seventh round was music to her ears.
“I knew he should’ve gone earlier than the seventh round, but as a parent, I knew my job was just to encourage him and to tell him that God’s will will be done,” she said. “I’m so proud of Andre. Every day since the draft, it’s hitting me. As long as he goes to Houston and keeps on doing what he’s doing, and he sharpens himself, he’s going to be fine.”
Hal said that he plans to do just that.
“I’m motivated. Self-motivation is the key to success. I feel like I can work my way in and end up starting one day,” he said, steering the conversation back to his other passion of helping youth in the Port Allen area. “It’s all about your mindset. These kids, if they have the right mindset, they can achieve anything. Even just going to college, just making good grades in high school. You can do anything you want to do if you just put your mind to it and have God in your life.”