CHARLOTTESVILLE — When All-ACC cornerback Bryce Hall decided to remain at No. 18 Virginia for a final season of eligibility, a Week 4 match-up with No. 10 Notre Dame did not enter into his decision.
Just think of it as an added bonus.
“It’s like living out a [childhood] dream,” said Hall of UVa’s upcoming visit to South Bend, Indiana, for a 3:30 p.m. Saturday meeting with the Fighting Irish. “When you’re a kid and you hear about Notre Dame and the tradition, it’s hard to get past that.
“Regarding that whole environment situation, I think it’s pretty cool.”
Hall had an FBS-leading 24 passes defended last year, including 22 break-ups, and was projected as a possible first-round NFL Draft pick before announcing minutes after a 28-0 Belk Bowl victory over South Carolina that he would be returning to UVa.
“In terms of helping the program, I just felt like that was what I was called to do,” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect [in] coming back because there’s new challenges and new things you’ve got to go through.
“I was facing that unfamiliarity with the hope and expectation that it was going to be special and was going to be worth it. With that in mind, I could be confident in coming back and doing what I’m doing now.”
Hall has played a role in the Cavaliers’ 4-0 start and their move in the top 25 polls. He doesn’t have an interception yet, but has a team-high four pass breakups and three tackles for loss, tops for a UVa defensive back.
“I feel like I can play a lot better,” said Hall, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he played wide receiver for Bishop McDevitt High School and had 137 career receptions.
“I think I’m my biggest critic and I expect a lot out of myself. The beauty of it is, we’re only four games in and there’s a lot left to play. I’m working fiercely to improve each week.
“Effort can go to another level as far as getting to the football, tackling and things like that.”
It was established early in Hall’s career that he was one of the best-prepared players on the team in terms of studying film and game planning.
A major consideration for Virginia this week is containing Notre Dame’s tight ends, including 6-foot-5, 250-pound Cole Kmet and 6-3, 235-pound Tommy Tremble, both of whom have touchdown receptions.
Chase Claypool, who leads the Irish with 15 receptions for 256 yards and two touchdowns, is listed as wide receiver on Notre Dame’s roster but weighs 249 pounds and is just over 6-4.
“Coach [Bronco] Mendenhall talks about ‘this is the biggest game we’re going to play in because it’s the next game,’” Hall said. “It’s just as important to prepare if it’s ODU or Notre Dame.
“If you put levels on it, it can compromise how you play.”
Hall, who never redshirted, has started 37 consecutive games for the Cavaliers. His first start came in the sixth game of the 2016 season and the Cavaliers went on to lose their last seven games.
The Cavaliers are 20-22 during his career but have gone 12-5 since the start of the 2018 season.
“Ultimately, he’ll probably gauge coming back by interceptions and by production personally,” Mendenhall said of Hall’s decision, “but what he’ll most likely gain — or will measure his coming back — is how is our team doing.
“Right now, we’re 4-0 and he’s helping us play at a really high level. That alone would be reason to come back.”