The football was improvised from a bunch of socks. The opposing team was the furniture. Young Kalin faked left, then went wide around a wall. He slipped the tackle of a kitchen chair, and made a flying leap into the end-zone couch on the far side of the living room. But the cheers of the crowds were only in his mind. As an only child being raised by a single mother working the swing shift, Kalin Hall spent a lot of time alone.
Growing up in Las Vegas, Nevada, Kalin didn’t foresee a future for himself that included college, a career, or membership in the LDS church. In fact, he didn’t even see football in his future despite his success in his own living room.
In grade school and junior high, Kalin participated in athletics, but by the time he was a sophomore in high school, things began to unravel. He was skipping too much school and his grades were going downhill. He played in four games; then his poor academic record forced him off the team. For two years of high school he watched games from the stands. He started hanging around some guys with gang affiliation. The bond between these guys appealed to Kalin, who was not used to being close with anyone. He became a follower.
Then things hit bottom for Kalin. He got kicked out of school for fighting in defense of a friend. He got caught riding on a scooter someone else had stolen. He wrote a suicide note to his mother. “I don’t know if I was serious,” says Kalin, “but I put it in my mom’s purse, and she found it.”
His mother took him to a hospital for help, and things turned around for Kalin. “I decided I had to change. I saw a lot of guys older than me doing nothing, hanging around selling drugs. I couldn’t see myself that way. I knew I was a fairly bright kid. I knew there was a purpose for me. I always prayed every night before I went to bed. I didn’t know why I did that. Nobody taught me. It was something I felt I had to do.” Only later did Kalin realize that those early feelings that helped him to pray every day prepared him for the changes he would make in his life.
Looking for a new group of friends, Kalin watched the people he admired to see what they were doing. He saw they were going to class, getting good grades, and playing sports. In one semester of school, he raised his grades to As and Bs. He played football and basketball his senior year of high school. As a high school running back, he was all-conference, all-region, and all-state. He was named Nevada’s Gatorade Player of the Year. But he paid a price for messing around for two years of high school. He was not eligible to be recruited by a Division I football school. He was headed to a junior college. He chose Dixie College in St. George, Utah, because it had a good football program and was close to home.
It was at Dixie that Kalin was first introduced to the Church. He became friends with some Polynesian players who were returned missionaries. Kalin says, “They welcomed everybody. They were so friendly and nice. I felt comfortable around them.”
One of his new friends, Jack Damuni, tells what happened. “I was in my room doing some homework. A Catholic friend came in and started asking me questions about the Church. Kalin walked in, sat on my bed, and just listened. We were talking about the Godhead and how the Spirit lets you know if things are true, and about our purpose here on earth. Kalin wasn’t saying anything. I turned and looked at him, and he started crying. I knew what was happening.”
Of course, Kalin remembers everything about that day. “Religion had always interested me. I listened to what both of them were saying. I was really struck by a lot of things Jack said. It was a good feeling that I had.”
They were an hour late for a team meeting. The coach bawled them out for being late until they told him they had been talking about the Church and were too involved to think of anything else.
As they were walking back to the dorms, Kalin started asking more questions. “Hey, Jack, what was that I felt back there? I felt something that really touched me. It made me cry.”
Jack said, “Remember when we were talking about how the Holy Spirit lets you know when things are true? That’s what it was.”
Kalin said, “It’s a good feeling. I felt calm.”
As Kalin began taking the missionary discussions, some strange things started to happen. Jack had warned his friend that once he started reading the scriptures and became interested in the Church, people would try to convince him that the Church was wrong. It happened just as Jack said.
“People started being involved in my life who never had been before,” said Kalin. “They were telling me how racist the religion is. To me, the black and white thing has never been an issue—never has been and never will be. I can’t honestly see anyone entering the celestial kingdom if they are prejudiced. Christ said we are all his children.”
Jack Damuni baptized his friend and watched him grow and progress as he became more and more involved in the Church. Two years later, Jack was Kalin’s teammate on the Brigham Young University football team. They are still very close, like brothers. Jack has seen a big change in Kalin. “He’s focused. Everything he does is focused on the gospel.”
While a lot of good things were happening in his life at Dixie, like joining the Church and being named the National Junior College Player of the Year in 1991, some hard things were happening. Kalin’s father, whom he never knew well, died. Then three months later his mother passed away from cancer. It shook Kalin. “During her worst time, I wasn’t there to comfort her. It helped out an awful lot that I knew I would see her again, but it was still very hard. Both my parents are gone, and I don’t have any blood brothers or sisters. I’m the last of my immediate family.”
During this time, Kalin was adopted by Wendell and Joyce Donahoo. He met the family while playing with their son Kelly in high school. “They have been great to me,” says Kalin. “They are a great family.”
After junior college, Kalin was heavily recruited. He made a recruiting trip to BYU. A couple of hours into the tour, Kalin used the phrase made famous by Brigham Young. “This is the right place.” He did have one condition before he would agree to come to BYU. He told the BYU coaches he wanted the chance to talk at firesides, to share his story with young people who might be helped by what he had to say. They smiled and said there would be no problem. He’d have more chances to speak than he would know what to do with.
Kalin’s interest in the choices young people are making with their lives has decided his major. He’s in social work. He intends to finish his degree and work with children. He’s so determined to make this goal that he is concentrating on finishing his degree and perhaps going on for a master’s.
Here’s the advice he has for kids: “Be your own person. Be a leader. The hardest thing is to stand up for yourself and what you believe in. Don’t get caught up in being a follower. If you have to, move on to another set of friends or be a loner for a while.”
As a running back on the BYU football team, Kalin’s athletic talents are evident. He’s hard to stop. But he has a very healthy attitude about sports in general. “Athletics is not the most important thing in the world. But they can be used as a positive tool in your life. For me, it’s been very positive.”
Football has given Kalin the opportunity to go to college. College led Kalin to the gospel. The gospel directed him to BYU, where he met and married his wife, Holly Hamilton, in the temple. The temple can lead them to an eternal family, a concept that is extremely meaningful to an only child who spent a lot of time alone.
If asked, Kalin will tell you about a favorite scripture. It’s the one in Alma about nourishing a seed (see Alma 32:28–43). Kalin says, “The seed was planted when I first started to turn my life around. Then the gospel came, and that’s when the seed was covered by the soil. When I read the scriptures, that’s when I nourished the seed, and it keeps growing as I gain more insight into the gospel. That’s how you progress.”
Sounds like a ball carrier who is on the ball.