FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You've heard of Terez Hall, right?
No, not Perez Hilton. Although he's been in the news this week, too.
No, no, no, not Paris Hilton, silly.
I'm talking about Terez Hall. Terez… Hall.
Really? You don't know him? The Patriots' second-leading tackler in both the Cardinals and Ravens games? And third against the Jets? That Monday night game in New York, by the way, was his NFL regular season debut. And ever since, he registered 33 total tackles for New England. That's behind only safety Adrian Phillips (46), and linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (34). The McCourty Twins combined have 35 tackles over that same span.
Still not ringing a bell? That's okay. He never expected you to recognize his name, either. Because he never expected to be here in the first place.
BE LIKE SUPERMAN
Though Sparta, Georgia is just 90 minutes east of Atlanta, it might as well be Sparta, Greece. That's how much of a different world it is from the nearby metropolis.
"Small town. Couple stop lights," Hall recalls of the place where he grew up. As he was about to enter high school, his father accepted a job much closer to the big city. So, the Halls resettled in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia, where Terez enrolled at Martin Luther King High. The move, Terez maintains today, changed his life for the better.
Not only did MLK offer more resources and a higher level of athletic competition than Sparta could because of its size, it was where the basketball-obsessed Hall was encouraged to give football a serious try. Coaches and school administrators impressed on Hall that football could propel him to an even higher education.
At MLK, Hall remembers having epic gridiron battles with future Patriots teammates Jakobi Meyers and Isaiah Zuber, who played for rival schools (and who continue the good-natured competition on the practice field today). Yet, it wasn't until his senior season that Terez truly opened college football coaches' eyes.
"Football is year-round in Georgia. When football season's over," he laughs, "you either run track or train for more football."
Or, as was the case for Terez, you play 7-on-7 football – an elite level of travel-team competition similar to AAU basketball. In the South, Hall explains, 7-on-7 games can get you noticed by major college programs. In some cases, it can also draw the attention of high-profile professional athletes like Cam Newton, for whose team Terez was chosen to play. Meyers also played for Newton’s squad, though not at the same time as Hall.
"I have a picture of myself with Cam at the time," Hall reveals, admitting almost sheepishly, "There was a time I used to wear the same exact outfit Cam Newton wore during games – the half-sleeves, the same cleats that go way above your ankles. Everybody wanted to be like Superman."
Often, Terez did inhabit Newton's skin, albeit when he played the Madden video game and chose the quarterback famous for celebrating like Clark Kent. Playing as Super-Cam was one thing. Playing for Newton was another. But actually playing ALONGSIDE him, and on Hall's favorite team, the Patriots, no less?
The thought never entered his mind.
A HUMBLING EXPERIENCE
Had Hall wanted to stay put in Georgia, he insists he could have. Yet, with his share of big-time college offers, he set off for the Midwest.
"I felt like [the University of] Missouri was perfect for me, especially after my [official campus] visit. I wanted to be around a bunch of winners."
Terez admits he may have been swayed by seeing the Tigers advance to the 2014 Southeast Conference Championship Game against Alabama. Although Mizzou eventually suffered a lopsided 42-13 defeat to the Crimson Tide, Hall's mind was made up.
The very next season, as a true freshman, he appeared in 12 games for Missouri, primarily as a special teams contributor. He nearly tripled his defensive tackle total in 10 games as a 2016 sophomore.
Hall started putting it together as a true junior, posting 85 tackles (12 for losses of yardage) in 13 games. Teammates recognized him with the Outstanding Underclassman Leadership Award, then named him a co-captain as a senior in 2018. He went on to lead the Tigers with five sacks in 13 games, plus another 74 tackles.
With that kind of momentum heading into the 2019 NFL Draft, the 6-2, 235-pound linebacker hoped to hear his name called by one of the 32 clubs. It wasn't.
However, Terez leaned heavily on his faith, and it turned out there was an NFL plan for his life after all. Invited to camp by New England in 2019, Hall spent the entirety of the regular season on the Patriots' practice squad.
"It was a humbling experience," the 24-year-old confesses. "But that's why I give all the thanks to God. Coming out of college, I was expecting to get drafted, but when I got here and got on the field, I knew I was going to make the team and be on the roster somehow. It didn't happen how I pictured.
"I was talking to Devin McCourty about it. 'Man, you don't even understand,' I told him. 'Just recently, I was playing Madden with you guys. I knew all the guys on the Patriots roster before I even got to the team.' Jamie Collins was my favorite player coming out of high school. And I played with him last year. It's just crazy what God puts you in.
"Next thing you know, we get Cam Newton… I'm looking at Cam and the age gap, in my mind, is super extreme, as a child anyway. I'm eight, nine years old and there's no chance of me playing with him or even in the NFL. It was just some farfetched dream or something."
Hall soon discovered that his video game idols were mortal, just like him.
"With Cam," he explains, "I get to see how he gets to the facility super early and leaves super late. When you're growing up as a child, you don't see that. You only see him pulling his hands apart, showing the Superman shirt underneath. You just see the MVP Cam, not the hours he had to work.
"We're all men. We all put our clothes on the same. You see that they're just like you. They're just like friends you have at home or friends you had in college."
Even the putative "Greatest of all Time," Tom Brady, now the Tampa Bay Bucs' QB. Hall credits Brady with giving him a memorable pep talk that helped turn around what could have become a forgettable rookie season on the practice squad.
"I didn't really embrace my role at first," Terez says. "But then Tom Brady came and told me to capitalize on my opportunity, and it motivated me, man. Now, I'm just doing anything I can to contribute to the team."
With Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts having left Foxborough via free agency this past offseason, along with the COVID-related opt-out by Dont'a Hightower, and injury-related depth issues at linebacker, the Patriots have needed help at the position this season. Of late, they've turned to Hall, who's heeding Brady's advice.
No, he's not a household name just yet. But Terez Hall is quietly starting to make a name for himself.