Joe L. Hall Jr. is in his first year as a guidance counselor at Topeka West High School. Hall is originally from Compton, California where he was a three-sport All-American high school athlete. He played football at a community college in California and was named California Player of the Year. He then earned a scholarship to Kansas State University in 1999. After completing his collegiate playing career at K-State, he entered the National Football League with the St. Louis Rams. He played five years in the NFL with the Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. When his professional football career was over, he and his wife and four children moved back to Manhattan where they have lived for the past seven years.
“I share my story with students, but I tend to share more about my childhood in Compton than I do my life at any other point. I think the relational piece goes a long way for most students. The fact that I have personally experienced similar issues that they may be having, adds a level of connection that I value greatly. A lot of the students that I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with ask me more about the fun times, which I am a little more apprehensive to share. Not because I have anything to hide, but because there’s a tendency for young people to see the fun in everything and not realize how difficult it is to achieve that status. I try to give them both sides of the coin to help them regardless of what route they choose to go in life. The beautiful thing about athletics and competition is that many of the skills you learn can be used in almost every realm of life. To me, that’s far more important than stories about partying and how much money I made.”
“Most of the students at least attempt to pacify me and take heed to what I am trying to teach them about making the most of the opportunities they have. From personal experience, I’m sure for some it goes from one ear out the other. The cool part about that is eventually my comments to them will be something they can reference when it comes up in five, 10 or 20 years from now."
“Students have the reaction of shock when they find out I played professional football. Some of the students start talking to me about how big I am and then they say, ‘You should have played football.’ I usually make some vague statement in response and just laugh it off. Then there’s either another student or an adult that makes sure that they know that I in fact was at one time a football player. I mean it has been more than 10 years since I last played.”
“I place the most emphasis on the fact I went back to college after football was over. I let them know I wasn’t the most motivated student and how I managed to turn it around and what I lost by having to make the effort and use the time to turn it around. I am not afraid to address my shortcomings. The goal is that the next generations benefit from what we’ve learned by coming before them. It would be a terrible injustice to pretend that I have it all figured out and have always been about pushing myself towards academic achievement.”
“I think they appreciate my honesty. One kid I spoke to told me that if he ended up going to a community college that he would dedicate himself to his studies more than he had thus far. For me, the ability to dream, have hope and focus on goal setting is where I wish that my story motivates the students.”
“I want students to make the most of their time. Time is the greatest commodity that we possess. We all get old if we are lucky. Looking back and wishing you would have done better, is for older people like me. The place that they are in their lives allows them to make the changes they need to be successful and to ensure that they don’t have to regret anything. These students are right in the middle of writing the pages to their book. It can be as great or tragic a story as they want it to be.”