Football: Hall’s return from latest injury strengthens Northwestern defense

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Football: Hall’s return from latest injury strengthens Northwestern defense

Nate Hall celebrates among teammates against Wisconsin. Hall returned against the Badgers following a pair of injuries in the past season.

Nate Hall celebrates among teammates against Wisconsin. Hall returned against the Badgers following a pair of injuries in the past season.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Nate Hall celebrates among teammates against Wisconsin. Hall returned against the Badgers following a pair of injuries in the past season.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Nate Hall celebrates among teammates against Wisconsin. Hall returned against the Badgers following a pair of injuries in the past season.

Jonah Dylan, Assistant Gameday Editor

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Northwestern was practicing for last December’s Music City Bowl when Nate Hall felt something pop in his knee.

“Just when it happens, you immediately understand the challenge that it’s gonna present, and so that wave of emotion comes over you,” Hall said this week. “And then you start to doubt a little bit. ‘Will I be the same?’”

He appears to be, but only after a few setbacks. He spent several months of his offseason rehabbing from a torn ACL — often alongside quarterback Clayton Thorson, who sustained a torn ACL of his own during the bowl game.

Both then made it back for Northwestern’s opener at Purdue, and both played well in the win. Hall led the Wildcats with seven tackles.

But three games later, Hall sustained another injury, which the senior linebacker called a “soft tissue” issue. He missed another three games before returning last Saturday against Wisconsin and recorded three tackles in a huge win for NU.

“It was an amazing feeling, to join the party again, as coach Fitz would put it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard watching from the sideline, to find that it’s your brothers out there battling and all you want to do is battle with them. But at the same time you’ve got to be smart about your body.”

Hall first became a starter as a sophomore in 2016, and he has played with a plethora of standout linebackers during his time as NU, including current Indianapolis Colts starter Anthony Walker. He tallied 73 total tackles his sophomore year, and then racked up 79 — including an impressive 16.5 for loss — in a breakout 2017 campaign.

Hall returns to a linebacking corps that continues to be one of NU’s best position groups. Sophomore Blake Gallagher leads the team in tackles, while sophomore Paddy Fisher is following up a standout freshman season with another promising campaign. With Hall back, the linebackers and the defense as a whole are nearly back to full strength.

Linebackers coach Tim McGarigle said Hall’s relentlessness stands out as one of his most important qualities.

“It’s just him as a person,” he said. “No one worked harder to get back to where he got with a knee and a shoulder and everything. He’s gonna continue to do that, not only this year but his whole life. That’s who he is.”

Sophomore Chris Bergin filled in admirably in Hall’s absence, recording 35 tackles on the year. Hall has 28 tackles, despite the fact that he’s only played in four and a half games. When healthy, he’s one of NU’s best defenders.

“Having Nate Hall back is huge,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “All Big-Ten level player, he’s got a wealth of experience. I was just so happy for him. He had a big fumble recovery (against Wisconsin) that led to a touchdown that was a big play in the game.”

NU now faces a difficult two-game stretch, starting with a home matchup against No. 4 Notre Dame and concluding with a trip to Iowa City for a game that could decide the Big Ten West. If the Cats want to win those games, they’ll need a stellar defensive performance, and Hall could be key to that.

Fisher praised Bergin’s performance, but also said he’s excited to have Hall back in the fold.

“He makes plays,” Fisher said. “He does his job. He’s just very physical and very instinctual and very fast. He makes plays and that’s one thing that with him out on the field, we can always count on him making plays.”

Email: jonahdylan2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thejonahdylan

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