DT Mike Hall Jr. and G Zak Zinter (4.27.24)

Mike, you weren’t obviously asked last night about this, but considering how you guys are connected from last November, how surreal, strange, everything that, as Zak said before, comes full circle now that you guys are teammates in the NFL?


Mike Hall Jr.: “Yeah, I mean, I would just say, you know, first off I mean, ‘the game’, in itself, you know, the up north and Ohio State rivalry is insane, you know, from day one, whenever you attend these prestigious colleges, that’s the main goal, so. But, you know, being my rival, my first my three years throughout my career, then finally being teammates, yeah, it’s crazy to, see them in the building. I’m going to be seeing him day in and day out, you know, but, I mean, we’re brothers now and it’s all about that.”


What kind of reaction have you gotten since last night from just northeast Ohio, friends, family, as you got to hear from more people about being with the hometown team?


Hall Jr.: “Yeah, being with my hometown team has just been a blessing coming true. You know, it’s just the greatest feeling ever. You know, I feel like – I mean, everybody wants to stay home, but sometimes it’s not a reality, but waking up this morning it’s an actual reality. Like, I mean, waking up as a Cleveland Brown, it’s insane. We talked, I mean, I talked about this in my family, friends, ever since I played football, you know, at the age of six.”


Playing in that style offense you had there in Michigan, how will that prepare you for the NFL?


Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, I think it’s perfect. I mean, you know, we’re a run first offense for sure, run the ball a lot, and then they start stacking the box in with a play action. But, I mean, J.J. (McCarthy) was able to pass the ball, too. So I think we’re pretty diverse, you know, and able to do a lot of things. So I’m excited to see how that’s going to help me translate to the NFL.”


You made 41 starts at right guard, but how much experience do you have playing other positions?


Zinter:“Yeah, so I cross-trained to play center. My sophomore year, we had an older guy come in who was a walk-on, earned his way to have a scholarship. Fifth year guy, he had some back problems, so I cross trained to play center. He was able to make it through the year, so I never had to play, but I played center in two spring games, two springs. So, you know, I have experience there just never any true actual games.”


You guys are brothers now, but go back to that game in November 25, and Zak gets hurt. What’s that like for you guys to see a moment like that where a guy gets carted off the field? Because you could happen to anybody, right?


Hall Jr.: “Oh, yeah, no doubt. Like, were just talking about that, and were just saying, like, you know, ‘Whoever’s going to win that game, that was the National Championship game’. So they won a national championship, so it was no coincidence. But, I mean, just seeing that and it’s obviously the biggest rivalry in all of sport. But, I mean, just to see that out there, and, I mean, we even prayed for him after, you know, when that happened. So, I mean, it was just real tragic to see that. I mean, he’s a hell of a player and my teammate now and my brother, but, you know, we’re just real. I mean cause when you go out there against those guys, you want to play against the best. You don’t want to go agains – no offense to anybody, but the second or third [string], you want to go against the top. I mean, and this game is all about competing.”


Zak was telling us yesterday that you reached out to him after that injury. Can you just kind of share with us, like, when you did that and what you were feeling and sort of what you said?


Hall Jr.: “Oh, yeah, no, we were just checking up on him, just making sure everything’s good. I mean, I know he wanted to play in the National Championship game. That was just I mean, everybody would want to do that, though, for sure. So, I mean, for sure, it was just a tragic event that happened.”


In the minutes and hours after that injury, all the things you processed, did you worry about your NFL future at all?


Zinter: “I mean, it definitely crossed my mind. I mean, you know, going into that game and, you know, the year I’ve had and then that happening, I didn’t know what had happened at that point, but, I mean, it definitely crossed my mind. You know, I knew something had happened to my leg. I didn’t know how bad or how good it was, but, I mean, it’s definitely something that crossed my mind for sure.”


You said you could actually feel something with the bones as you were being carted off?


Zinter: “Yeah. So, like yes. Like, when the doctors came out, like, my leg was kind of sideways, so they straightened it out and I could feel all the bones in there, like crinkling kind of, and touching them, so wasn’t the best experience. But, you know, we got through it.”


So where are you health wise have you hit all the checkpoints? And where are you in terms of your rehab?


Zinter: “Yeah. So I’m cleared for everything. So at this point, it’s just building the strength back up, building the stamina. But the legs healed, so at this point, it’s just building the calf strength and the muscles around it back up.”


You weren’t able to work out for any teams?


Zinter: “No. I made a video a couple of weeks [ago] –  or a week and a half ago that I posted on social media, but I didn’t work out. No, sir.”


Gonna be in a room now with Wyatt Teller, Joel Bitonio. What do you hope to learn from those two guys? And just how exciting is it for you to be in a room with two of the best in the game?


Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, I’m pumped to have two guys like that, you know, that have done it and are doing it at a high level. I mean, just, you know, I’m pumped to come in, be in that room, and just learn from them. Just see how they go about their everyday lives, you know, how they prepare, how they attack practice, all that kind of stuff. And just mimic and attach on them at the hip and just try to grow.”


For both of you what’s it like joining a team that’s already a playoff team? You know, you’re not here with a two and 17 or two and 15 team. So what’s that like being on a playoff team?


Hall Jr.: “I mean, first and foremost, you know, just coming in with a team like this, you know, it’s a winning tradition and starting to get back to winning a lot of games. That’s a great thing in itself, and hopefully we’ll be able to bring one back for the city of Cleveland.”


Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, I’m excited. I don’t like to lose. I like to win. And I’ve got some rings over the years, and I’m hoping to keep adding to them.”


Did you attend Brown’s games as a kid?


Hall Jr.: “I think I’ve been to one. I can’t remember which one. I was real young.”


Do you have a ton of family in town, or can you sort of describe what your family and friends situation is like here?


Hall Jr.: “Yes, I don’t have too many family members in here. Just my mom, my brother, and just about it. Yeah really”


Part of you hoping to go somewhere else just to kind of broaden your horizons, maybe you spend all your life in Ohio, like did part of you think, ‘okay, I might get drafted somewhere else’?


Hall Jr.: “Maybe. I mean, at the time, I felt good at my 30 visit here. You know, I felt at home and, you know, being here, I mean, it’s just meeting the people and understanding the culture here and just I mean, Coach (Jim) Schwartz is just understanding his philosophy here is just – everything was a fit. I mean, from day one, I love to hear and even telling my mom and my brother, you know, ‘I feel like, you know, Cleveland was the one’, and luckily I ended up here, so it was the best thing ever.”


Did you end up one-on-one at all over the last couple years?


Hall Jr.: “Yeah, a couple of times.”


Zinter: “Yeah. He got me one play, he got me one play.”


Hall Jr.: “No, he definitely – it was a pretty good battle. You know, he would give me a couple of times, but it’s all about competing at the highest level, for sure.”


I asked you about Jim Schwartz yesterday, last night. But what do you think in general about this scheme where we heard it last year, defensive tackles don’t have to sit there and eat up blocks. They want you guys getting after the quarterback. I guess how much more do you think you can unlock just with your passion, man.


Hall Jr.: “I feel like, you know, Coach (Jim) Schwartz is just going to bring the best out of me every day in and day out. And our whole philosophy is just to attack and disrupt. So, you know, just having that mentality and that mindset to finally be able to let the dog unleash, that’s the best thing ever.”


Were you a huge Browns fan growing up? And if so, who were some of the players you identify with or what are some of your browns memories?


Hall Jr.: “I remember when Johnny Manziel got drafted here, Trent Richardson. That was the best thing ever. I mean, I even still watch, like, little highlights and stuff from the old things. But, yeah, it’s just – I mean, it’s just a dream come true to be a Cleveland Brown here. Growing up here, been here my whole life, so just a hell of a feeling.”


What’s it like being a published author?

Zinter: “Yeah, you know, I got a little kids book. You know, it’s interesting for sure, you know, when NIL came out in that whole space and then this guy had reached out to us, like, ‘I think you guys should make a kids book.’ And I didn’t really know what to think at first. And then, you know, we spent a good amount of time on it. A lot of help from our parents and our moms, too, for sure. Made sure it sounded right.”


Were you and (Luke) Wypler good friends?

Hall Jr.: “Oh, yeah. That was – so I can’t remember what season? I think it was [the] ‘22 season. That was my sophomore year. It may have been junior, senior year, but yeah, he was my lifting partner. So like in the offseason, that whole winter, spring, I mean, he’s my lifting buddy every day, and you know at Ohio State we compete every day, even in the weight room. So just being able to understand, you know, people from different backgrounds and different ethnicities and just be able to create a close friendship and I mean, brothers for life. Ohio State is all about the brotherhood and be able to be with him every day.”


Is he (Luke Wypler) happy?

Hall Jr.: “Yes, sir.”


It’s hard work working on the interior of the defensive line. What do you love most about it?

Hall Jr: “Disrupting. I mean, just causing havoc, you know. I mean, I feel like the best thing ever is just making a quarterback, you know what I’m saying? Like, just look at you pre snap and, you know just having that anticipation, you know, just. I mean, just disrupting. That’s the whole thing at d line, and just chasing out their quarterback all day. I mean, it’s the best thing ever.”


You moved to Streetsboro. You know, how did that affect your football journey? What role did Streetsboro and Pete Thompson play and where you are now?

Hall Jr.: “Yeah, so when I moved to Streetsboro, it was all new to me. Cause they weren’t big on football. You know, they were a little bit more basketball, wrestling, so it was kind of all new to them when I came out there, I came from Cleveland Benedictine. So, I mean, they were a football school, football, basketball, so they kind of knew the woodwork of that. But going out here was just kind of changing the culture, you know what I’m saying? They haven’t won a conference championship in like a decade or something. So, you know, to be able to arrive there and be a help to the team and bring back multiple of those and make multiple playoff appearances, I mean, that was the best thing to ever happen.”


You began together in a way that you would not necessarily have wanted it to. What would you like the ending to this story to be for you two guys together?

Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, it started off – I mean, like, how it is, but, I mean let’s go win a Super Bowl. Why not? You know what I mean? So, I mean, we guess were enemies in college, but now we’re brothers. Now we’re brothers and teammates.”


Hall Jr.: “Right.”


I saw on your social media you went gator hunting in the past, I don’t know if you know but Wyatt Teller is also big into that. Are you excited to get to pick his brain about it?

Zinter: “Yeah, no, I’m excited. I’m a big outdoors guy, you know, hunting and fishing. So, you know, whenever I get some off time, it wasn’t a ton in college – but, you know, whenever I did, I like to get outdoors and do that kind of stuff. So, I’m excited, for sure.”


Ask Joe Thomas.

Zinter: “I know. I know.”


Yesterday you mentioned Larry Johnson, what a big influence he was on you, I guess. In what ways, and how do you think he most helped your game?

Hall Jr.: “I mean, I feel like Coach (Larry) J helped me. I mean, he’s helped me tremendously on the field of course, just understanding pass rush and all that and just how to cage the pocket and all that, how to be a disruptor. But I mean, I feel like the biggest thing he helped me is just, I mean, just off the field. You know, he’s my mentor, and he was my sports psych before I was into sports psych. So, you know, just being transparent with him and being able to talk to him about anything, I feel like that was the the best thing that could have happened for me and him. And just to have that real close bond and that relationship, you know, it really helped me as a player.”


You said you’ve been cleared, and now it’s just a matter of building up your muscles in that leg. Does that mean you’ll be able to be on the field, like in OTAS or looking at different timetable to get back to football stuff?

Zinter: “Yeah, no. I mean, I expect to be on the field for rookie minicamp here in a week and a half, you know, going through all the stuff on the field and just see what goes. But my leg feels really good now, so I expect to be on the field.”


You think that all the Buckeyes in the locker room are going to embrace this?

Hall Jr.: “Yes, ma’am. I mean, as harsh as it sounds, I mean, we’re brothers now. So, you know, you got to put the past aside and you just, we got to go out there and go win one.”


Brought your own support group here. What can you say about them? And how much does it mean to share this moment with them?

Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, I got my parents here. I mean, they’ve been a huge part since the very beginning. You know, my dad played in college, so I mean my earliest memories are just watching college football games and when he was my coach playing flag and peewee tackle football. So it’s pretty surreal to be here, be a Cleveland Brown and just have them by my side for the whole way has been unreal.”


Hall Jr.: “Yeah, I feel like it’s just a great experience to have my mother, my brother, my girlfriend, and my son here, you know, just to be able to provide my son, just being able to have him look at me, you know, later down the road when he gets older and watch this and see his dad doing something positive. I feel like that’s the greatest thing ever as a father. But, I mean I love my mom, and she sacrificed so much for me and my brother, and I know she’s going through a lot of emotions right now. So just real thankful and real appreciative of her, but also just give all the glory to my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. You know, without him, I’m nothing.”


You had allowed no sacks and committed no penalties your senior season, obviously, until it ended prematurely. But how much pride did you take in that and what went behind you reaching that level of play?


Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, I think it just comes down to, you know, fundamentals. The dudes around me, I mean, our whole line, we mesh really well together, and we just every week, we go out there, try to play a clean game, you know, keep J.J. up, and just try to stay ahead of the sticks – penalties, holding penalties, false starts, you know, put you behind the sticks. And, you know, we didn’t want to do that. So, you know, just focusing on the little details that had hurt us in the years past and, you know, trying to correct those and keep them out of the game.”


The cerebral part of the game, which obviously is required to do those things, how much is that a strength of yours, along with leadership?


Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a big part of my game being able to adjust on the fly and do all that kind of stuff and adapt. But, I mean, I think it’s a strong part of my game, for sure.”


Does your injury make you have, like, a different appreciation for the game. I mean, I know it sounds like it obviously could have been much worse.


Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, it definitely did. I mean, this was the only injury that has ever taken me away from the game ever in my career, especially through the last couple of seasons. Coming into this season, coming back for the last year, it being ‘the game’ against Ohio State, senior night in the big house, all that kind of stuff. I mean, it definitely brought the appreciation and love that I have for the game back because I missed being out there with the boys. You know, I want to get back on the field. I want to, start producing and doing all that stuff again. And it really did bring the love back. You know, I’ve been going on a great run and to have it all taken away really hurt. So, you know, I’m excited to keep grinding and get back out on the field.”


Were you surprised the browns picked you or was there an indication they were interested in you?


Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, I had a great formal visit with them at the (NFL) Combine, and we had talked and, you know, with my agent as well. You know, I knew they had liked me and when those picks were coming around, I had my fingers crossed. And when the phone rang, I was super excited.”


Before the draft started, were you hoping to get reconnected with (Jim) Harbaugh?


Zinter: “I don’t know if I’m a West Coast guy, to be honest. But I would have been happy, you know, if they were to take me as well. Yeah.”


With the way you guys played at Michigan, and I’m thinking about that second half against Penn State when you guys are playing like that and just running the ball, how does that feel for you as a guard and then how does that mentality kind of translate here?

Zinter: “Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, we couldn’t block the guys on the edge and we’re getting some pressure and we said ‘All right, we can’t pass we’re going to run the ball.’ And, you know, we ran it 30 times. They knew we were going to run it and there was more of a mentality of, you know, ‘We’re going to run the ball, so can you stop it?’ And, you know, the coaches really put that in our hands, the running backs hands, and entrusted us with that, which was really special.”


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