Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Max Hall

Max Hall believes he's healed and ready to go when the Cougars open fall drills a week from today.

Hall proceeds to fall camp with a mended shoulder and valuable pass protection he believes is the best he can find.

We shall see.

Seven months ago, Wyoming defensive end John Fletcher body slammed Hall to the turf just before halftime in War Memorial Stadium and the Cougar quarterback suffered a third-degree shoulder separation.

Folks at BYU kept the seriousness of the injury private, but now that the season is long since expired, Hall isn't afraid to let on, "it was pretty bad."

How bad? What was it like to play Utah and UCLA with that torn up wing?

"My bone was sticking up out of my shoulder, and we had to tape it down for the Utah game and the bowl game. I had to pretty much play through the pain, and it took a lot of rehab and treatment to get it back," Hall said.

"Coach (Brandon) Doman said he had the same thing happen to him and he actually liked it because he had more range of motion without that ligament hanging on and your shoulder can actually get stronger, so maybe it is a good thing, I dunno."

The difference is, Hall was able to win the bowl game against the Bruins; Doman faltered against Louisville and in the regular season finale at Hawaii. Doman played injured on the hard turf of Aloha Stadium in his final game and lost; Hall filed away a win over Utah then finished his last two games after a 10-2 start as a sophomore. Doman went 0-2 after a 12-0 start as a senior.

How'd Hall do it? Supporting cast.

In 2008 with his cast, BYU has reason for optimism, Hall says.

QBs of BYU past have privately expressed jealousy over Hall's situation — the players around him. If Hall fails, it won't be due to the accessories.

Most of the reason for Hall's optimism, is BYU's offensive line, which returns every starter but center Sete Aulai.

Senior tackle Dallas Reynolds has 37 straight starts. Senior guard Ray Feinga has 34, followed by Travis Bright's 26 games and David Oswald's 34. Center Tom Sorensen has seven games after earning SEC all-freshman team honors at Vanderbilt before a mission.

"People may criticize me for this, but I think we have the best offensive lines in the nation," Hall declared this past week in Las Vegas. "They are big, they are fast and they pass block well. It's a pleasure to have them and it's a great comfort to know they're up front helping me."

With backs Harvey Unga and Fui Vakapuna geared to be healthy and anxious in 2008, Hall said it's "sweet" to have that kind of weaponry behind him. "If I'm having an off game, I can turn to those guys to run it. They can run, they can catch and they do great things for the offense. We have great balance. Having all these guys is huge."

Huge for his shoulder.

If Hall gets banged up like he did at Wyoming, or does not escape some of the hits he took as a sophomore this year, BYU's fortunes could change drastically this fall.

Odds of BYU winning the MWC if Hall is healthy come December? About 2-1. Without Hall, probably 5-1.

New Mexico coach Rocky Long attests to the luxury BYU — or Utah — has in a good QB and offensive line, the best formula for winning league titles. And he should know, he's the longest tenured coach in the Mountain West.

Claims Long: No. 1 is the offensive line and a good quarterback.

No. 2 is supporting cast.

"I think a lot of it has to do with who they have around them but it's all dependent on the quarterback," Long said. "There have been some good quarterbacks in this league who don't have the surrounding cast that they can be great quarterbacks but still can't win a conference championship. A couple of times we've had a cast that could have won the conference championship but it all comes down to quarterback play."

Long says his guy, Donovan Porterie, is as good as Hall, Utah's Brian Johnson or anyone else in the conference. He's got a premiere back in Rodney Ferguson and he calls Jermaine McQueen the fastest guy he's coached, finishing fourth in the MWC 100 meter dash (10.68), without one practice with the track team.

Long may have the most physical offensive line he's coached at New Mexico.

But four of UNM's five offensive linemen have never played college football.

"So, we have a great tailback, but that's not going to do us any good unless we have somebody to block for him. We have a good enough quarterback to win this conference but he's gotta have a supporting cast. Guys need to catch the ball, but guys have to block or Donovan will get the hell knocked out of him. Again."

So, Hall's all set up.

Priority No. 1?

Don't get the heck knocked out of him again.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com