Playing in his first collegiate game, Ball State freshman wide receiver Justin Hall lined up in the slot.

It was midway through the third quarter as the Hall caught a ball from junior quarterback Riley Neal close to Ball State’s sideline. He was quickly wrapped up, or seemed to be wrapped up, by an Illinois cornerback for a yard gain at most.

But as he came closer to the ground, Hall ducked and broke free from the defender, storming 27 yards down field before he was finally pushed out of bounds at the six yard line.

Justin Hall season stats

Games played (started) - 4 (3)

Receptions - 22

Receiving yards - 310

Touchdowns - 2

Yards per game - 77.5

That was only one of two catches he had in week one, but he’s been making more plays for the Cardinals offense since then.

“He’s been doing a really good job, obviously he’s making a lot of plays out there and that’s what everybody sees, but there are really good things that are happening behind the scenes,” wide receivers coach Alex Bailey said. “He has, naturally as the weeks go on, gaining a bigger role and he’s doing a really good job handling what we’re throwing at him.” 

Since his two catch, 36 yard game against the Fighting Illini, Hall has led the Cardinals receiving corp in most categories.

After bringing in a season-high eight receptions against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Ball State head coach Mike Neu had this to say in a postgame press conference:

“Justin Hall ended up having the hot hand today making some big plays,” Neu said. “All of our guys, you try to give them several opportunities through the course of the game to win, to get their number called. And some games, one of those guys is just a little hotter than the other one.”

While Ball State continues to spread the ball around with it’s pass offense, with 12 players recording receptions, Hall has seemingly separated himself from the rest of the pack.

Hall has started every game at wide receiver since week one and has led the team in receiving yards each game, getting passes from two different quarterbacks, Neal and senior Jack Milas, who started against Western Kentucky.

On the season, Hall is nearly doubling the rest of the team catches (22) and receiving yards (310) and is tied for the most receiving touchdowns (2).

Hall’s statistics have also put him on top of the Mid-American Conference statistical standings — tied for fourth in receptions per game and sixth in receiving yards per game — as Ball State enters conference play against Western Michigan this weekend. 

While Hall didn’t expect the opportunity this early in his college career, he has embraced the new workload.

“I wasn’t expecting [to start], but there was a couple of veterans who got hurt, so they wanted me to step up and fill the role,” Hall said. “I think I’m filling in pretty good and just trying to get better every day.”

Hall compared his early opportunities to his high school playing days, where he finished with 2,577 yards during his career at Alexander High School in Douglasville, Georgia.

And since signing Hall in December 2016, Bailey has been excited to see what him, along with the rest of the 2017 recruiting class were going offer.

“For him [Hall], he was able to grab on quickly to what we were doing,” Bailey said. “That’s what I’m more impressed with than the plays on the field. … In just recruiting him and seeing his athletic abilities, you can kind of just expect some of those things to naturally happen, just the way he’s developing mentally and in our scheme is really good to see.”

That early development came at a time when Ball State needed it most.

Ball State lost its all-time receptions leader in KeVonn Mabon to graduation and Damon Hazelton transferring to Virginia Tech in the offseason — the two of which combined for nearly 1,500 yards last season. That raised a big question on who would be “the guy” on the Ball State receiving staff.

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For now, with senior Corey Lacanaria out with a broken collarbone, the go-to guy appears to be Hall. Just as long as teams don’t start game planning against him.

“I’m not really concerned about that,” Hall said. “There’s no way you could stop our offense if we execute everything that coach wants us to do and do it 100 percent."

Ball State’s next game is on the road against MAC West Division opponent Western Michigan at 7 p.m. on Sept. 30.