Photo by Hunter Martin

Photo by Hunter Martin

It has been a long journey for Chad Hall to get to the NFL.

The Wesleyan grad's life-long dream seemed dashed two years ago when he wasn't drafted out of college and didn't make the cut as a free agent in training camp.

So Hall fulfilled his service commitment with the Air Force Academy, where he starred on the football field as a senior, and became a second lieutenant.

But the idea of playing in the NFL never left Hall's mind. He spent the last two years staying in football shape while working 10- to 12-hour days. It all paid off in March when Hall was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles.

He still hasn't made the cut, but Hall will get a chance for a spot to play professional football when the Eagles open training camp Tuesday.

"That two years of all the sweat and pain, it was totally worth it," Hall said.

Hall was a standout player in college as a running back, wide receiver and return specialist at Air Force. He was the only player in the country to lead his team in rushing and receiving as a senior in 2007. Hall drew Heisman Trophy consideration and finished third in the nation in all-purpose yards.

Despite his accolades and versatility, Hall went undrafted, partly because of his size (5-foot-8, 188 pounds) and the fact he would have to make a two-year service commitment.

Hall tried out for the Atlanta Falcons in the summer of 2008, but was cut during minicamp. That prompted him to begin his two-year service in the Air Force.

"You have to serve two years, so I knew I wasn't going to make the team," Hall said. "It was really an experience for me and gave the confidence that I could play at the next level."

Hall served as a second lieutenant at Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City, Utah, overseeing more than 250 men and 28 F-16s. He worked long days as a maintenance officer and then drove to the University of Utah to train, lift and run by himself.

"It got tough doing it, having to push yourself and not having your teammates there to push you," Hall said.

For two years Hall worked out on his own, keeping the NFL dream firmly in his mind. In March, he went to the University of Utah's pro day, expecting to use it as a warm-up for the next's week pro day at Georgia Tech.

Even after being out of touch with football for two years, Hall shined during the drills. He impressed NFL scouts with his quickness and explosiveness in short drills and caught every pass thrown his way. Less than 24 hours later he was getting calls from a handful of NFL teams, and finally the Eagles pulled the trigger. Hall flew to Philadelphia for a tryout and was signed.

"We would not bring anyone in here unless we thought he had a legitimate shot to make the roster and make us a better football team," Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said on the team's website. "We don't believe in the term 'camp body.' We want everyone to have a legitimate chance to make the roster."

Hall went through organized training activities and minicamp with the Eagles this spring and summer. The team had him lined up at several positions, including wide receiver, running back in some offensive packages and punt/kick returns.

"He's a unique story. He's not the biggest guy, not the fastest guy; tremendously quick and strong," said Eagles head coach Andy Reid on the team's website. "Having been in the Air Force, he really hadn't played a whole lot the last couple years. Then if you look at his last year at the Air Force Academy, I believe there were four or five games there where he played wide receiver; he had been a running back. Then he comes back and plays running back and (rushes) for 1,400 yards after missing five games.

"He's a pretty talented kid and we'll just see how he does as time goes on here. It's a new system for him to learn and all that. (He's a) sharp kid and we'll see how he does."

While Hall juggled positions during Eagles' training camp, he was also balancing a hectic lifestyle. His service commitment to the Air Force wasn't complete until this summer, so he spent four months flying from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City. Hall would spend the weekdays going through workouts, film study and practices with the Eagles, then fly to Salt Lake City on Thursday night. He would work two or three days and fly back to Philadelphia on Sunday.

The Air Force requires graduates to make a five-year commitment. Hall's two years of service are complete, but he still has three years as a reservist. Most reserves typically space out their time to once a month, but if Hall makes the Eagles' squad, he would serve his time during the offseason.

"I get to do the two things I love -- play football and serve my country," Hall said.

Hall wouldn't be the first Academy grad turned NFL player if he makes the team. Chad Hennings has the most successful story, playing for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s and winning three Super Bowls.

Winning a championship is a distant thought for Hall. Right now he just wants to make the 53-man roster. Whether that's as a wide receiver, running back or return man, it doesn't matter. He just wants to play in the NFL. He's worked too hard to get there.

"I'm definitely going in with the attitude that I have a lot to prove. I've always pushed myself and made myself the hardest worker," Hall said. "Even if I was 10-year veteran I would do that. I'm taking that attitude into camp."