Former Buckeyes Roy Hall and Antonio Smith apply competitive spirit to tackling community challenges.
When you're a former Ohio State football player, Columbus is your oyster. If you wore the Scarlet and Gray and you have a degree, you can virtually write your own ticket in this town. Call it “Buckeye Currency.” Columbus teems with former players who turned that currency into business or broadcasting careers.
Roy Hall went in a different direction. The former wide receiver, with a Fisher College of Business degree in marketing and even a few years of NFL experience to his credit, could have availed himself of the many opportunities that await a former Buckeye, but that kind of success didn't interest Roy Hall.
“You don't know what you let yourself in for, man,” Hall says about an hour into our interview, warning that he might go on for another hour. “We've been duped,” he says. “We've been told it's all about ourselves—how much can I get, what's in it for me—but it's not. It's about what we can do to serve other people.” He is nothing less than driven.
Driven, in fact, is the name Hall gave his foundation when he founded it 10 years ago with fellow former Buckeye Antonio Smith. For Hall, the president, and Smith, the vice president, Driven is a full-time job, and it's exactly what they envisioned doing even while they were in the NFL. (Injuries doomed Hall's pro career: He spent three years with the Colts, was signed and waived by the Lions, then spent time with a minor-league team before calling it quits.) He and Smith had similar childhoods: Hall was raised by a single mother in Cleveland, Smith by his grandmother in Columbus. Both knew well the poverty and dangers of inner-city life.
“We played our first two years with the Colts together, and we decided that when we got done playing, what better thing to do in the city of Columbus than to literally take the mindset that it takes to get to the NFL or the high D-1 level, use that determination, use that mindset to help other people. So we decided that we'd carve out our own niche—serving and building and creating opportunities to help other people,” Hall says.
Hall says he knew little about starting a nonprofit. The first idea was obvious: a football camp. The great-grandmother of one of the campers thanked Hall for the experience but asked him what else he was doing for the community. “And my answer was: nothing,” he says. “So that fall we got together to do afood outreach. We fed 300 families. We gave away 40,000 pounds of food.” (To date, the food outreach has provided 850,000 pounds of food to more than 650,500 central Ohio families.)
Driven's mission metastasized in the ensuing 10 years: The foundation offers mentoring programs at elementary schools, counseling at correctional facilities, free back-to-school supplies, “wellness” kits for personal hygiene, and even regular birthday parties in schools for kids who might not otherwise have one. Driven's Thanksgiving dinner last year was extremely memorable. Amid the furor over NFL players kneeling to protest police brutality, Hall brought 100 inner-city kids together to meet with police officers, the attraction being a Thanksgiving brunch and the presence of Urban Meyer and the entire Ohio State football team at the Woody Hayes Athletic center.
“The Wednesday of Michigan week!” Hall says. “It was such a priority for the team and The Driven Foundation to do something to create a positive conversation … ‘What can we do to put the police officers and these students who are always being fed the notion that police officers are bad people? What can we do to show them that's not true?' It's the mindset of being a doer.”
Smith says that mindset is typical of Hall. “Roy's very creative.” The Buckeye football program has been a constant source of support for Driven, Hall says: former players like Maurice Clarett, Craig Krenzel and Maurice Hall and many others have worked with Driven. But that doesn't mean Hall relies wholly on Buckeye Currency, says Lee DuMond, principal of Windsor STEM Academy, who first got to know Hall at Moler Elementary. “That Buckeye platform gets him in the door, but it's his spirituality and sincerity that move people. That first mentor group at Moler, he didn't get the easy kids. they were some hard kids, but Roy and the men he brought in here, they could see that he was invested.”
Jeff Long is a freelance writer.