Chaz Hawkins checked his phone again and again. It kept buzzing, and he couldn’t believe it. Hawkins didn’t think his younger brother, Missouri Tigers receiver Emanuel Hall, would play the rest of this season, much less last weekend. But as Hall dressed for Mizzou’s game at Florida, 15 or so of his family members were sharing their excitement in a group text.
Texts with exclamation points popped up when the group learned Hall, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior receiver, was pulling on his leggings and putting on his pads. Emojis followed the beginning of the first quarter when Hall took his position at the line of scrimmage.
In this moment, in Gainesville, Fla., Hall flexed his knees and shifted his right leg in front of his left, gracefully in a way that speaks to his natural athletic ability. The football was snapped. Hall exploded off the line before catching his first pass in weeks.
Hall had been absent in the four games prior. Not only was he nursing a groin injury, but his father had passed unexpectedly during that span.
Times had been tough for Missouri football without him. Hawkins knew it. Hall did, too. His goal was to turn the tide for his team, and in doing so, he would hopefully turn the tide within his own life as well.
“You never really know what’s going to happen in your life,” Hall said.
Hall entered the season with high expectations. Coming off a junior year in which he averaged nearly 25 yards per catch and scored on eight of his 33 receptions, he was preseason third-team all-SEC.
7️⃣ from #Mizzou named All-@SEC by the league’s coaches 💪
That’s fifth-most in the league pic.twitter.com/2bl7tdEvuR
— Mizzou Football (@MizzouFootball) August 23, 2018
Sure enough, the speedster got off to a fast start, catching 18 passes for an astounding 430 yards in the first three games, all Missouri victories. Then came the mishaps.
Hall sustained the groin injury in the week leading up to Missouri’s last-second victory over Purdue, just before the most high-profile stretch of his career. In the midst of the Tigers losing three straight games to tough SEC foes without him, Hall’s father, Daton Emanuel Hall, passed Oct. 11.
Emanuel Hall, center, with mother Shannon Simmons and late father Daton Hall. (Courtesy of Shannon Simmons)
But the unexpected provides an opportunity for self-growth, which is something Hall knows a lot about.
His four years at Missouri stand as a testament. Hall has transformed himself from a deep threat to an all-encompassing receiver in his four years. In the process, he has transformed himself into an appealing NFL prospect and a key part of the Missouri Tigers.
Some context: The Tigers have played in 18 games since Hall first became a starter against Kentucky in October 2017. They are 10-3 when Hall has played (though he barely played in the Georgia loss this year). They are 1-4 when Hall has not. To take it a step further, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has thrown 47 touchdown passes in the games Hall has played; he has thrown six touchdowns in the five games Hall has not.
“He’s a playmaker, man,” said senior offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton. “You can’t just walk out on the street and find a cat like that.”
Dane Brugler, The Athletic’s NFL Draft analyst, chuckled over the phone when asked what immediately stood out after watching Hall’s game film because the answer is obvious.
“Speed,” Brugler said. “He’s one of the fastest receivers in this draft. Watching his tape, it looks like some of the cornerbacks are in quicksand.”
Shannon Simmons, Hall’s mom, was a speedster herself. She won the Tennessee state championship in both the 400-meter dash and the pentathlon in high school. A year later, in 1994, she won the state championship in the long jump.
She went on to college at Tennessee, where she ran and jumped for the Volunteers as a heptathlete. Now Emanuel spends Saturdays showing off the skills he inherited from his mother.
“I love her to death, man,” Hall said. “She makes me who I am.”
For a time it looked like Hall would follow his mom’s track path. He won two AAU Junior Olympic track gold medals in 2011, taking first nationally in both the pentathlon and high jump. He cleared 6 feet, 8 inches as a freshman, and Hawkins said Hall once cleared seven feet.
But while he enjoyed track and was obviously quite good, the pull of the pigskin in the deep south was strong. In the spring of 2013, after his sophomore year, Hall chose to focus on football.
Daton Hall’s friend told him his son would be best served training with a man named Randy Fuller, a local who had played football for Tennessee State then six years in the National Football League. After working with players like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, sending them toward the league he once played, he began working with clients in the Nashville area.
One day, Daton drove Hall over to a local park in Brentwood, Tenn. The three immediately hit it off.
“I liked Emanuel’s upside right away,” Fuller said.
They worked together nearly two or three times per week. Fuller, a former cornerback, would direct the show, barking out advice and the young would run his routes, conveying what the defense was trying to do and how the defense would try to position itself against his client.
(Courtesy of Shannon Simmons)
Hall improved during his junior year in 2014 while playing for Centennial High School, but his senior season brought success that set up Hall for a college career. He caught 47 passes for 889 yards and 12 touchdowns that year, earning a Tennessee All-State selection.
One school in particular stood out during the college search. It was competing for championships in the Southeastern Conference, yet it was not receiving the recognition Hall thought it deserved.
He visited Missouri and decided it was for him.
The turning point for Hall’s career came in 2017. While he had played his freshman and sophomore years, showing promise as a speed receiver while catching 27 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns, he got his first real opportunity to shine in his junior season.
On Oct. 1 of that year, ahead of Missouri’s game against Kentucky, former Tigers wide receiver Dimetrios Mason was kicked off the team. The Tigers needed a receiver to step up. Hall did just that, catching four passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. He starred from there, becoming one of the best deep-threat receivers in the country and quarterback Drew Lock’s favorite target entering the 2018 season.
Missouri’s offense entered each game expecting to manhandle opponents, primarily because of who it had as its signal-caller and premier receiver. The groin injury changed all that. He could not leap. He could barely jog.
Yet he suited up against Georgia and gave it a go, but he couldn’t even run a go route.
“That was probably a mistake,” Hall says, “and that put me out for a while.”
Hawkins, who now lives in Los Angeles and goes to school at Loyola Marymount, found out about the injury via text from his mom. Hall was not worried about it, but Hawkins thought his brother’s college career could be over.
“Personally, I didn’t think he was going to come back,” Hawkins said. “I thought he was going to focus on getting healthy and then, once he got healthy, focus on (the) NFL combine and stuff because he has shown what he can do.”
Meanwhile, the coaches missed him. So did the players.
As the Tigers prepared to head to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on No. 1 Alabama, Hall was with senior receiver Nate Brown when the conversation fell silent. Hall learned father Daton, who had pushed him to follow his football dream and watched his son play at every possible chance, had passed away unexpectedly at age 44.
Brown immediately leaned over and hugged his friend and roommate.
“It was really tough,” Brown said. “But things like that only build character and make you stronger as a person.”
Hall traveled home to Nashville for the funeral the week after and spent time with his family.
“That was the guy that raised us,” Hawkins said. “It’s a lot, learning how to co-exist with everything and realizing that he’s gone. It’s a lot. We came together as a family to pay our respects. It was rough.”
Once Hall returned, he turned to football and getting healthy as his means to get past his heartbreak, with the full support of his teammates.
“We’re understanding and trusting Emanuel that he knows when he’s ready,” said senior offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton. “We want him to be E Hall. We want (him) to be E-Man.”
Missouri got E-Man against Florida, and the group text buzzed with each great play he made.
The pass-catching poise was the cherry on top:
“Tonight I just felt like I was going to be able to play somehow,” Hall said after the game. “God worked his magic.”
Performances like last Saturday’s are what propel folks like Brugler to say Hall has a chance to be a Day 2 pick in the NFL Draft, assuming Hall remains healthy and fares well at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
“I think he’s a top-three senior wide receiver,” Brugler said. “Once all the underclassmen declare, and there’s going to be lot of them that will be considered, that will have an affect. But he’s one of the better senior receivers this year.”
Performances like last Saturday’s also show why Hall is so valuable to the Tigers.
“When you’re (a kid), you have your blankie, your little blanket,” Lock said. “I was sleeping and I was freezing for four weeks, but the little blankie came back and made some plays for us.”
Even if for just a few games, it’s nice to see No. 84 back on the field in black and gold.
(Top photo: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)