Ohio State alumni Roy Hall and Antonio Smith use past experiences to
Former OSU wide receiver Roy Hall (8) runs with the ball during a game against Michigan on Nov. 18, 2006. Credit: Courtesy of TNSBefore ever donning an Ohio State uniform, and prior to hearing his name called by the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL draft, Roy Hall was a sixth grader with size 14 shoes looking to acquire the new Penny Hardaway’s all his friends were sporting. Except his mother could not afford to grant that wish.Working 10 to 12 hours a day, five to six days a week, new basketball shoes were not in her tight budget. Raising two kids on her own, she could not even afford new shoes for herself, wearing the same pair of boots for seven or eight years.Seeing his friends playing basketball in those new kicks, it did not register with Hall why he could not possess those shoes. It wasn’t until later in life he understood the predicament his mom was dealt raising him and his sister by herself.“You can see how strong an individual can be if they make their life about someone else,” Hall said. “My mom dedicated her life to making sure we had necessities growing up.”Growing up without a father in his life, Hall never really had a mentor of his own until his friends, family and coaches began to notice the potential he had in athletics.When Hall arrived on campus as a freshman at OSU in 2002, the Buckeyes were one of the top teams in the country, eventually winning a national championship, and Hall could not have been more excited to continue his maturation as a football player and a human being under former coach Jim Tressel. But there might have been one person of greater importance to Hall throughout his time at OSU: former cornerback Antonio Smith.“He’s kind of like my offensive coordinator,” Hall said.Smith came from a similar, humble beginning like Hall’s, being raised without a father. Smith was without a mother, as well, and had his grandmother bring him up.After his career ended with OSU, Hall became serious about taking their stories to mentor communities and youth. In Hall’s rookie year in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, he took the values instilled in him by his mother and Tressel and talked to Colts stars Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne about the benefit of using their NFL-player platforms to lift communities and inspire a better life for others.In spring 2008, Driven Foundation was founded by Hall and Smith who used their personal experiences for personal outreach to serve at-risk communities.“We promote perseverance and we try to foster hope through our food outreaches, mentorship programs, specializing in some motivational speaking,” Hall said. “Everything we do is surrounding or pushing the ‘never give up’ mentality.”Now going on its seventh year, Driven Foundation has spiraled into a versatile outreach organization present in multiple areas around Ohio. Numerous people it has served now wish to be servers to the community, which Hall said are unequivocally the highs in this experience.“Those are the stories that you may not read about or may not hear about but keep you motivated,” he said.As one of its main projects, the Driven Foundation has served about 500,000 pounds of free food to more than 4,200 Ohio families since 2008, according to the foundation’s website.The organization strengthens various age groups and communities, and most of the effort is directed toward the younger generation. Hall has constructed three mentorship programs at an elementary school and two middle schools.Once a week he speaks at a high school, and he aims to launch a new program every three months.One of those programs, SUITS, is in conjunction with Marion Franklin High School, where Driven provides free, custom-tailored suits to help teach students life lessons on how to be college- and interview-ready.“Our mentorship program is directed toward maximizing their potential and having them go to the next level, so to speak,” Hall said. “A lot of the things we do is very purposeful.”Denise Lutz, the principal at Holt Crossing Intermediate School in Grove City, Ohio, oversees a preteen student population that lacks counselors and role models. First encountering Hall at Hannah Ashton Middle School, Lutz said she knew Hall could be a positive role model for her students because he “drives right into experience.”A student Lutz referred to as “Jeremiah” appeared sad, almost depressed to the point it appeared he did not have self-worth. Lutz directed the emotionally troubled Jeremiah toward Hall.Recalling having tears in her eyes when Jeremiah told Hall, “he simply couldn’t do it anymore,” Lutz said she was alarmed hearing that from a child not yet in his teens.The principal said Hall sat down with Jeremiah, inculcating life lessons learned from his own past mentors.“Hall is great because he’s very upfront with his experiences as a youth,” Lutz said. “His presence with the kids, he doesn’t beat around the bush.”Hall dedicates much of his time to creating a culture for young people to learn the ways of cultivating an unselfish way of living. He said he believes athletes can be of massive assistance in resolving issues within a community.“These guys that hang up their (college) uniforms actually can do much more than just those four years on the football field,” Hall said. “Every athlete should make the effort to give back to the community not because it’s a good PR move but because no one made it to the level they are at by themselves.”Though Hall endures strenuous hours involved in Driven, it is nothing with which he is unfamiliar. As a kid in his modest home outside of Cleveland, his mother would wake him and his sister up early in the morning for school, head to her job until 6 or 6:30 p.m., help with Hall’s homework, cook dinner, iron their clothes and then do it all over again.“I believe my entire life, the Driven Foundation was embedded into who I was and my character,” Hall said. “Just having challenges growing up and watching what my mother was willing to sacrifice is where it started.”Correction 2/16: An earlier version of the story said Hall arrived at OSU in 2003, when in fact he redshirted the 2002 season as a true freshman and was a member of the 2002 national championship team.