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Merritt Hall: The now-starting fullback whose coach "didn't know who he was" - The Red and Black : Sports

Merritt Hall: The now-starting fullback whose coach "didn't know who he was"

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Posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 8:00 am | Updated: 6:19 pm, Tue Aug 28, 2012.

To say Merritt Hall came out of nowhere isn't entirely true.

The redshirt freshman played at Wesleyan School in Norcross, one of the most successful high school football programs in the state in the last half-decade. Perhaps not coincidentally, that run of success paralleled Hall's time there from 2008-11. The last three years of his prep career, he was an all-state defender as a linebacker and won individual awards at both the region and state level.
 
But when it came time to start looking at colleges, the offers didn't exactly come in droves. 

Actually, they hardly came at all. 

Hall received letters from Wake Forest, Air Force, Georgia Southern, Furman and Jacksonville State, among others. None of them extended him an actual scholarship, though, instead trying to sell him on the opportunity of being a preferred walk-on.

Why the lack of interest for such an accomplished high school player?

"I have no idea. I've asked myself the same question," Hall said. "I don't know. I guess they didn't have enough scholarships or they just didn't see a fit for me in their program, which is fine, because I love where I'm at right now."

As he well should — he was awarded a scholarship earlier this month by the Georgia coaching staff. On top of that, Hall has been tabbed the starter at fullback heading into Saturday's season opener against Buffalo. 

Things haven't always been so glamorous for Hall though.

After deciding to walk-on at Georgia last fall, he took his lumps on the scout team. Hall admitted having the same doubts many lesser-known players at large programs deal with.

"I had thoughts, 'Gosh, these coaches, I don't even know if they know who I am,'" he said. "You kind of get that feeling, but you've just got to persevere through that and keep grinding."

The Bulldogs' starting center, David Andrews, shares a close bond with Hall, part of a friendship that traces its roots back to middle school. Like Hall, he had to come to grips with hardly seeing the field his first year in Athens.

"You come in here as a freshman, you go from high school [where] you're playing every Friday night and you come here and you're not," Andrews said. "That's an adjustment everyone has to make and that was tough for Merritt. I just told him, 'Keep working, keep working. We're going to get our shot this spring.'"

Hall didn't let the opportunity to impress coaches and teammates in the spring pass him by. He played so well that he caught the eye of the man at the helm of the Bulldogs' program.
 
Georgia head coach Mark Richt jokingly said he "didn't even know who he was" until Hall announced his presence by taking home the "outstanding walk-on" award for the offense.

"I say 'I didn't know who he was,' [but] I knew who he was," Richt said. "but I didn't start to notice him as a football player — as a Georgia Bulldog football player — until I saw him start blocking people in the spring. He got my attention pretty quick."

Richt is far from the only person Hall has made a mark on.

His position coach, Bryan McClendon, said he could tell Hall would be on the field sooner rather than later.

"
Merritt knows what to do and he knows how to do it," McClendon said. "He takes coaching extremely well. He's not a guy you have to stay on in order to get things. He's such a tough kid...He's a hard guy to overlook."

The physicality of his game is what makes Hall so hard to ignore — just ask his teammates.

"He plays hard. He comes ready to hit," said Richard Samuel, who takes reps at both tailback and fullback. "You know you've been hit when Merritt comes and blocks you. Some of our linebackers know they have to tell Merritt to slow down a little bit because it's [just] practice."

It's not just defensive teammates who have had to tell Hall to take things easy.
 
Offensive lineman Chris Burnette could vouch for that.

"I remember one play he ran up through the hole on a lead block, and I heard a nice little lick behind me," the right guard said. "You could hear it and I knew it was him. Then on the next play he ran into my back, and I was like, 'Dude, what are you doing?' And he said, 'Man, that last play had me seeing stars.' That just shows how hard he plays and how hard he goes. He's never afraid of a lick, and that's what you need in a fullback."

What you need even more is something that can't be measured in height and weight, according to Andrews. To him, Hall has the one intangible that eclipses all others, the one that compensates for deficits in physical attributes or athletic ability.

"He might not be 6-foot-3, 260 pounds like [fellow fullback] Quayvon [Hicks], but Merritt's got something you can't teach," Andrews said. "He's got heart. He loves this game more than anything. That's what really makes you a football player."

With the season opener against Buffalo fast approaching, even Hall expressed wonder at how quickly things have unfolded.

How does one go from a redshirt walk-on member of the scout team to a starter on scholarship in less than a year?

"It has happened kind of fast, hasn't it?" Hall said. "I don't know if I'm as surprised as I [would be] if I hadn't been working hard and just trying my best to do anything I can to help out the team. [I'm just] trying to be as dependable as possible to all my teammates, and so far that's been working out."
 
If nothing else, Hall said his is a story of perseverance, of not letting an opening fall by the wayside.
 
And that is precisely the advice he would impart upon a young player in a similar situation.

"You never know when that opportunity is going to come about," he said. "And when that opportunity does come, you want to make sure you're doing everything right. You want to show everything you've got and everything you've worked for, because you might only get one chance."

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