PROVO — As he enters his senior year, BYU quarterback Max Hall is sporting a new look and a new attitude.
He's hoping that translates into improved results on the field next fall.
Despite the miserable way Hall finished the 2008 season -- six interceptions, two fumbles and two losses in the final two games -- he didn't feel sorry for himself. Instead, he went back to work.
"I'm stronger than I've ever been and I'm faster than I've ever been," Hall said. "We still have spring ball and then a few months before fall camp. I want to be the best physically than I ever have been in my entire life. That's been my main focus."
Hall's coaches have taken notice of his dedication.
"The season didn't end the way he wanted it to end. He didn't do quite as well as he wanted," said quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman. "That was motivation in and of itself, losing and not performing exactly the way you want to is probably one of the best motivators if you're the right guy. And he is the right guy. He's much faster and much quicker on his feet, which will make him a much better quarterback."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall has been impressed with Hall's leadership and unselfishness.
"It's a demonstrated work ethic in terms of how he's changed his body, how his strength numbers have gone up, how he's running, his visible leadership on a consistent basis," Mendenhall said. "Any area that you could evaluate and measure, it's tangible and recognizable not only to the coaching staff, but also to the players, which is more important. I don't think he's doing it to be recognized, he's doing it simply to help our football program."
Midway through last season, Hall said, he got sick and lost about 10-15 pounds, which is why he's determined to get bigger physically.
"I've gained all that weight back, plus some. I started the season at 200 pounds and I'm a little over that right now," Hall said. "I'm hoping to get around 210-215 by the time fall camp starts. I want to be in good shape and be big and strong. Obviously, I had a couple of rough games at the end (of the season). But it's football. Sometimes you play well and sometimes you don't. I hope that I can prepare myself this year so I can be consistent for our team."
Of course, Hall is facing life without wide receiver Austin Collie, who decided to skip his senior year to enter the NFL draft.
"Austin was a good receiver. We're really good buds. He was a go-to guy for me. Obviously, we're going to miss him," Hall said. "But I'm also very excited about the guys I'm going to have this year rotating in, with (wide receivers) McKay Jacobsen, Luke Ashworth and O'Neill Chambers. I'm excited about those guys. I've got some good talent around me, along with (tight end) Dennis (Pitta) and (running back) Harvey (Unga). I'm still going to have a lot of weapons around me. The adjustment shouldn't be too bad. Our offense is designed to spread the ball around. Sometimes last year we got in situations where we had kind of had to go to guys and let them make plays. This year, we're going to spread it out more and scheme a little bit better."
In his first season as a starter, as a sophomore in 2007, Hall led BYU to an 11-2 record and a Mountain West Conference championship. The 2008 campaign started auspiciously as the Cougars won their first six games and Hall was being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate. The media attention grew, but the Cougars wilted down the stretch, losing three of their final seven games.
Hall is trying to learn lessons from painful defeats to TCU, Utah and Arizona.
"Offensively we need to learn to manage crisis situations better and be more patient, especially in games that we might get down and not try to force the issue," Hall said. "I'm watching a lot of film. I make sure I'm mentally prepared. I'm a very emotional player. Sometimes I feed off that emotion too much. I'm learning how to control that, manage the game, be the last line of defense out there and direct everything that's going on. I'm learning from the past. I spend a lot of time when I can with coach Doman, going over things and seeing how I can improve and get better. There's a lot of things I'm working on this spring as far as look-offs, reading the defense and improving the mental part of the game. That's what I'm trying to do."
Doman, a former BYU quarterback himself, is working closely with Hall to help him reach his potential.
"We need to increase three things on his end -- timing, decision-making and accuracy," Doman said. "Those three elements will equate with great ball security. Ball security doesn't mean fumbles and interceptions, although those are involved in that. It means game management, down and distance management, and all areas of his game. I've seen huge improvements, which has been fun for me. He's matured a lot. He's still has got a long way to go, but he's understanding that stuff. If he's able to increase in those three areas, I would expect that he and our football team will have a great season."
Unlike last year, there are no sky-high expectations of going undefeated and earning a berth in the Bowl Championship Series.
"We just need to have fun. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves last year and it kind of got the best of us in a couple of games," Hall said. "We just want perform at our best and enjoy it. If we do that, we'll be a lot better off. When you enjoy playing, I think you make more plays.
I enjoy being here at BYU and being around the coaches and all the staff and people here who have done a lot for me. I'm trying to enjoy the whole experience of being a college student and being the BYU quarterback. I'm not in any rush. I'm taking my time. I want to just soak it all in. At the same time, I'm working hard, understanding that this is my last go-round. I don't want to have any regrets when I leave this place. I just want to be able to say I did my best. I want to be at my best for my senior year."
Doman can relate. He led the Cougars to a 12-2 record and a conference championship in 2001.
"There's something about a senior year that's different than any other year," Doman added. "The idea of it being your last hurrah and last chance to be with your teammates to play in that stadium with the fans. You just don't know what's past this experience. That sense of urgency in your last year is what's making him kind of tick right now. He's working harder than he's ever worked."