Ryan Hall had a plan.
What he didn’t have was a scholarship when he talked to his parents about leaving Duke and transferring clear across the country to enroll at the University of Hawaii and walk on to the football team.
"I told them about the idea and we had frequent flyer miles, so it cost five bucks to come out here and I told them I’m buying a one-way ticket and taking two duffle bags and I’m going to make this work," Hall said.
After the Warriors broke fall camp, Hall said he still had little more than what he’d stuffed into those bags when he boarded his flight to Hawaii with the full backing of his parents. But he did have an opportunity to compete for a starting role at a position essentially nonexistent at the school for more than a decade as well as a scholarship to pay for his graduate courses.
"It’s very exciting. I’m so appreciative and happy. I came here not expecting anything," said Hall, who received a scholarship by the end of fall camp. "My goal was to play this year and hopefully work for one next year."
Hall first began playing tight end as a sophomore in high school in Orlando, Fla., and brings versatility to a position that requires perhaps the widest range of attributes of any position on the field. Tight ends typically need the size and strength to block defensive ends, the agility to run patterns and the hands to make tough catches.
"I joke about the term ‘fatletic,’ " Hall said. "A tight end has to be a special-body type. It’s a big guy, but they have to be athletic enough to move around a little bit."
Hall’s experience playing in a pro-style offense in high school and at Duke also gave him an edge in competing for the "F" position in the Warriors’ system. On a given play, he can line up in a three-point stance next to the tackle, split off as a slot receiver or in the backfield as a fullback.
Craig Cofer, a defensive end last year, ended camp in the lead at the "Y" spot, which lines up in the traditional tight end’s position at the end of the offensive line.
The Warriors didn’t have a tight end on the roster when Norm Chow was hired as head coach and filled the depth chart by moving players from other positions — including Cofer and wide receiver Darius Bright — and signing a junior-college transfer in Clark Evans before spring practice. They also recruited freshmen Harold Moleni and Ethan Watanabe to compete for the job in fall camp.
Hall’s playing time at Duke last season was limited primarily to special teams, and with the Warriors in need of depth at tight end, he was intrigued by the possibilities in Hawaii. Like former Blue Devil and current UH quarterback Sean Schroeder, Hall had earned a degree from Duke with two years of football eligibility remaining, giving him the freedom to transfer without having to sit out a year.
He did have to wait quite a bit to get started in the sport, though. The size limits in youth leagues kept him from playing in his age group and he got his first exposure to football as a high school freshman. As one of the biggest players on the team, he was assigned to play left tackle his first year, but "I still wanted to catch the ball and still wanted to be the one running down the field and make plays," Hall said.
He renewed his request the following season and this time the staff obliged. He caught a touchdown pass in his first varsity game at tight end and he was hooked.
"My coach started encouraging me to stick with football and work harder and make it my sport," Hall said. "At that time baseball was really my sport and my dream, but I developed a love for football."