By Joel Poiley
As Rannell Hall lay on the ground in August of 2016 after suffering a broken fibula in the Cleveland Browns’ first preseason game, it would have been easy for him to think the football Gods didn’t have it in the cards for him to reach his goal of playing pro football.
Hall was having an excellent training camp and opening eyes trying to earn a roster spot. But the injury was another hurdle Hall would have to overcome.
Nothing new really.
From his time excelling at Miami’s Carol City High through a brilliant four-year career at wide receiver for the University of Central Florida (UCF), Hall’s career has been about proving the naysayers wrong.
Hall wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, and he was not drafted out of UCF after graduating in 2015. That despite amassing 959 total yards receiving, rushing and returning kickoffs as a senior.
He concluded his collegiate career with four receptions for 113 yards in the Fiesta Bowl, including an electrifying 50-yard play where he took a short out pass behind the line of scrimmage from Blake Bortles and broke numerous tackles en route to the score. He added a 34-yard TD reception, helping the Knights defeat Baylor 52-42.
Everything was on display for NFL scouts and general managers that day – Hall’s speed, moves, toughness and desire. The desire wasn’t reciprocated, leaving Hall undrafted.
Nicknamed Speedy, Hall signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in May of 2015 but was waived in September and signed to their practice squad.
Still trying to catch a break, Hall, sturdy at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, signed with Cleveland in December of 2015. He was placed on the active roster for the final three games of the regular season. The one professional game in which he played was the season finale against Pittsburgh. No catches came his way.
Hall persevered and impressed in the Browns’ 2016 training camp before his injury, forcing him to miss the entire season.
Frustration didn’t stop him. Hall he didn’t have time for the pain, applying the same intensity and dedication to his rehab as he was known for during his playing days at UCF.
“It was a tough journey; had its ups and downs,” Hall said upon returning to the Browns in 2017. “I was still coming in every day going over the playbook, working with the coaches and players to stay involved. I viewed the injury as a positive because it built character within me.”
Cleveland re-signed Hall early in 2017, only to cut him loose in September after he nearly made the team. The Atlanta Falcons signed Hall to their practice squad last January only to cut him three weeks later.
As Hall spoke postgame after catching a touchdown in a Browns preseason game last year, he tightly clutched the ball. Now 25, Hall is no longer a youngster in football terms, but the game still has its hold on the guy they called “The Underdog” as an alter ego at UCF.
The clock was ticking for Hall to achieve his dream. But when The Alliance was announced in March, with a team coming to Orlando, Hall was one of the league’s early signees. Get ready, Orlando. Speedy is back, ready to prove the doubters wrong once and for all.