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March 29, 2012

Horns pick up big baseball commitment

Sometimes, you embark on a journey that can make great moments that much sweeter. Once a walk-on backup outfielder at a junior college, Texas' newest baseball pledge is now committed to be a scholarship player at his dream school.

Without the funds, huge coaching staff, time and full scholarships, baseball recruiting can be an inexact science, especially in the state of Texas where there is so much baseball talent all over the state. Throw in the fact that players can see drastic improvement as they age, and a lot of kids get missed. But sometimes coaches still find them. With the help of his head coach Whoa Dill at Navarro Junior College, and the connection former Navarro head coach and current UT pitching coach Skip Johnson has to the program, sophomore Weston Hall is realizing a dream. The local product from Leander High School is a future Texas Longhorn.

After a recent game in which Hall had three bunt singles and stole three bases, the starting center fielder for the 2011 JUCO national champions got a phone call.

"Skip called me after the game was over," said Hall. "I was debating between Texas Tech and Texas. I'm an Austin native. This was my dream school. It was a pretty easy decision to me. I'm pretty pumped about this."

An offer from Texas Tech was quickly followed with heavy interest from the Longhorns.

"Well, the first time they contacted me was the day after Texas Tech offered," stated the junior-to-be. "Skip knows my head coach now well. They came and saw me play a few days ago. They made an offer from there. I was pumped. I gladly accepted."

Coach Dill and UT's pitching coach go way back. So when Johnson got a call from Navarro's head coach, he knew he had to see Hall play.

"I talked to Skip about him," stated Dill. "I said, 'Look, we have a kid that you need to come see. His family lives there (Austin). I think he can play there.' Texas Tech saw him and offered. They brought him in on a visit and coach (Augie) Garrido really liked him."

At Navarro, Hall was a key part in the team's National Championship season in 2011 as a freshman. He even went deep in the title game. However, what really sets him apart is his elite, plus speed and outstanding athleticism.

"He is a very, very athletic kid," stated Dill about his center fielder. "He's a 6.4 runner (in the 60-yard dash). He can really play outfield with a good arm. He can really track them down. He's 6-1. He's probably 195 pounds. Strong kid. He's hit two or three home runs for us so far. He can really bunt. He can swing it. He's a great athlete. Hall is going to do the small things and steal a ton of bags. He's only been thrown out one time and it was when he was picked stealing on first move by a lefty. He stole three bags yesterday and had three bunt hits. He's already scored 30 runs for us. In the JUCO All-Star game last year, he ran a 6.5. It was the fastest time. There were only three guys that ran under 7.0."

When Hall gets to Texas, Dill doesn't think it will take him long to get acclimated. One of the reasons why Garrido uses the small ball style as much as he does is to develop the team concept; he likes to make the team bond so that they fight for each other. According to his coach, Hall will fit right into that concept.

"He walked on and earned a full scholarship this year," said Navarro's skipper. "Great kid. He does everything you could ask. They all liked him at Texas. What I like about him - they're not going to teach him how to play a role in the game. He impacts the game in so many ways and does the little things. He does everything he can to get on base. We had 12,000 people at our national championship game. Crowds aren't going to bother him. He's just going to play hard. He's got 19 or 20 steals this year. I think he'll be a good fit at Texas. Our field is as big as UT's. He can really cover. We just play our corner outfielders on the line and let him cover all that ground."

Hall's description of his game doesn't sound too different from his coach's. Plus, it sounds like this speedster drives pitchers nuts when he gets on base, which is often.

"I feel like I have some speed," the 6-1 outfielder that hits right and throws right said. "I'm a top of the lineup guy. I try to use my speed as an advantage. I'm pretty good at bunting; good contact hitter (Hall is hitting .456 in conference play). Drawing a couple balks, being disruptive, I like to distract pitchers. If I distract them just enough, they could throw a ball or a mistake pitch. I just try to be a pest but at the same time being smart."

On his visit to Texas, the outfielder really enjoyed his lengthy chat with Texas' head coach Garrido. Growing up in Cedar Park, Hall was very familiar with Garrido but had never really gotten to talk to him like he did on his visit.

"Honestly, it was an honor talking to Garrido," Hall said. "Growing up around the area, he was a legend. It was awesome to spend that one on one time with. The experience was great, meeting current players, former players, and just going through the whole experience the team goes through day in and day out. I really liked the facilities and the vibe."

The journey Hall's been on hasn't been an easy one, but it's been one that has rewarded him for hard work. Out of high school, he was a guy with no offers, and didn't have a place to play a month before classes started. Now, he's committed to Texas.

"Coming out of high school I didn't have anywhere to play," Hall said. "I didn't get any offers. There was about a month left before classes started. I was over in Florida and had a pretty good tournament with my summer team. My summer coach said I deserved somewhere to play and he called up Navarro. Coach Dill was gracious enough to let me walk on. I came in as a backup outfielder and I had to work my way up from the bottom. I'm trying to make my dream of playing Big 12 baseball come true."

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