UGA’s Merritt Hall is proving recruiters wrong

ATHENS — Franklin Pridgen, the head football coach at Wesleyan School, was frustrated in the fall of 2010 by his inability to persuade a college to offer a scholarship to his hard-hitting senior linebacker.

“We did everything we could, putting out DVDs and writing letters and all these things,” Pridgen recalled. “I even said to our assistant coaches, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ Because even schools like Georgia Southern and Jacksonville State were, like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ It really drove me crazy. … It was maddening to me and to him.”

Hall

Hall

Merritt Hall, the linebacker no one would offer a scholarship, wound up enrolling at Georgia last year and walking on to the football team at a new position, fullback. A year later, he is No. 1 on the Bulldogs’ fullback depth chart, a presumptive starter for the Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo unless something changes in the next couple of weeks. And, oh yes, coach Mark Richt put him on scholarship last weekend.

“It has happened kind of fast, hasn’t it?” Hall said.

At Wesleyan, Pridgen understood that Hall’s size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds at the time) and 40-yard dash time (“it didn’t blow anybody away,” Pridgen said) were not exactly selling points with recruiters.

“But what I always found frustrating is that none of that matters, in my opinion,” Pridgen said. “What matters is, what does a kid do when he straps on the pads and the lights come on on Friday night?’”

When the lights came on for Wesleyan — a private school in Peachtree Corners — from the 2008 through 2010 seasons, Hall starred.

He made all-Gwinnett County and all-state teams. He was named the state Class A defensive player of the year as a junior.  He helped the Wolves win the Class A state championship as a sophomore and reach the state semifinals as a senior.

Hall played mostly defense, but Pridgen revels in telling the story of a 2010 game at Elbert County in which Wesleyan tailback Kyle Karempelis rolled an ankle and Hall filled in at a position he had not practiced and gained 50 yards on seven carries on a late drive to set up a game-winning field goal.

Through it all, recruiters yawned.

“I got letters from, like, Furman, Georgia Southern, Jacksonville State, Air Force. I got one letter from Wake Forest. But I never got any scholarship offers,” Hall said.

“It was frustrating for him,” said David Andrews, Hall’s teammate at Wesleyan and now Georgia’s starting center.

The idea of walking on at Georgia was broached by Hall’s trainer during his senior year in high school. Intrigued, Hall phoned Stacy Searels, then a UGA assistant coach, who promised that the Georgia staff would be back in touch. Pridgen then sent film of the Elbert County game to UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and asked him to focus on Hall’s seven carries.

Soon came word from Bobo that Hall, as a fullback, could join his Wesleyan teammate Karempelis as a preferred walk-on in Athens.

A preferred walk-on, basically, is a walk-on with an invitation. While a regular walk-on might be turned away, a preferred walk-on is promised a chance to practice as a freshman.

Hall did so last season as a member of the scout team, going largely unnoticed.

“I had thoughts that ‘Gosh, I don’t even know if these coaches know who I am,’” he said.

Then, in spring practice, he got their attention. Asked how he did it, Hall said: “It obviously wasn’t my speed or my athletic ability, I don’t think. I think it was more just going full speed and just hitting people because that’s a big part of playing fullback.”

By the end of the spring, Hall was No. 1 on the fullback depth chart. Last week, Bobo reiterated that Hall remains in that spot at least for now, ahead of senior Richard Samuel (who splits time between fullback and tailback), junior Zander Ogletree and freshman Quayvon Hicks. Hall said he’s up to 233 pounds.

“Merritt’s not afraid of anyone,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if it’s Cornelius [Washington], Jarvis [Jones], Tree [Alec Ogletree]. He’s not afraid to meet them in the hole and take them on. He’s done a great job of creating room for our running backs and knowing what to do. I really haven’t heard any coach yell at him for a missed assignment this whole [preseason].”

None of that surprises Andrews, Hall’s friend and teammate since seventh grade.

“I knew how good he was,” Andrews said. “He might not have all of the accolades; he’s not 6-3, 260 pounds. But Merritt has got something you can’t teach. Merritt has got heart. He loves this game more than anything, and that’s what really makes a football player.”

– Tim Tucker, AJC

148 comments Add your comment

UGA_1

August 16th, 2012
4:01 pm

wish UGA had a dozen more just like him!

Pj

August 16th, 2012
4:04 pm

This is a great, great story. I can’t wait to see him smack a Missouri linebacker in the hole and open Marshall/gurley up for a 50 yd touchdown. Congrats on the persistence Merritt!!

Big Albany Dawg

August 16th, 2012
4:11 pm

Nice. Way to persevere.

Eaassyy

August 16th, 2012
4:12 pm

Keep on trucking brother. Loving the mustache too

VADAWG

August 16th, 2012
4:12 pm

Black-N-Red

August 16th, 2012
4:14 pm

This is what we need a team full of! Guy’s who really love the game and play at full speed ALL THE TIME…. I wish our former running backs understood this frame of mind, anyway Sickem Dawgs – Woof Woof Woof!

George Stein

August 16th, 2012
4:16 pm

That’s an awesome story. Hard work apparently pays off; whooda thunk it?

Adam

August 16th, 2012
4:17 pm

Sounds like Georgia’s own version of ‘Rudy’ but with more talent.

Top Dawg

August 16th, 2012
4:18 pm

Looks like a DGD at Fullback! Glad we got him! GO DAWGS!!

StuDawg

August 16th, 2012
4:22 pm

The ‘Stache! Take that ’stache, put your head down and hit somebody!

Dawg Haus

August 16th, 2012
4:26 pm

Great story. We need as many hard-working, hard-hitting Dawgs out there as we can get. Go get ‘em, Merritt!

Tim

August 16th, 2012
4:27 pm

HEART = Winner!

Dawg in Bama

August 16th, 2012
4:30 pm

Ahh… Heart and love for the game. This is nice. Refreshing like the first time i had a Coke.

Dawg Days

August 16th, 2012
4:30 pm

Congratulations young man!

GB's Hamburgers

August 16th, 2012
4:31 pm

I bet he doesn’t take plays off or pull himself out. I get his gun has a serial number too.

Coach Mike Cloy

August 16th, 2012
4:33 pm

The exact opposite happened to his uncle, Greg. Southern Cal , ND, Texas were all after him. After heavy recruitment , he ended up doing the ” right thing ” and signed with the Violet Paladins of Furman.

LeftCoastDawg

August 16th, 2012
4:33 pm

Good for Merritt!

OldFan

August 16th, 2012
4:38 pm

Maybe there is still such a thing as a student athlete. Great story. Really pulling for you, Merritt.

dawggirl

August 16th, 2012
4:39 pm

Coach Mike Cloy of North Springs? You taught me at one point. :) Class of 1990.

BiggDawgK

August 16th, 2012
4:40 pm

Great story and this kid is a DGD. I also love that the s&c has been showing some serious results bulking up the guys. I hope it means the Dawgs will be standing tall late in the 4th quarter this year. I’m sure the other teams will be feeling the impact of that extra muscle.

Macclenny_dawg

August 16th, 2012
4:40 pm

I would rather have a team full of kids with HEART than most of these 5 stars without!!! Go Dawgs!!!

DIT

August 16th, 2012
4:41 pm

Put Merritt on Special Teams as well! This guy seems to like to get after it. Seems to have a special teams attitude. It’s kind of like a relief pitcher. The mentality just has to be slightly off(in a good way). I look forward to watching him this season!

bitter

August 16th, 2012
4:42 pm

LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU CLEAR THE HOLES FOR GURLY AND MARSHALL

Here we Go

August 16th, 2012
4:47 pm

Heart and love for the game=DGD.Good luck Merritt this season.

Carew Rowell

August 16th, 2012
4:47 pm

Just goes to show you what you can happen when you want something bad enough…

A big heart goes a long way in my book!

Great story…I needed that to pick my spirits up. I’ll be keeping an eye on him.

Go Dawgs…it’s about time to “Rock and Roll! I sure hope we can block somebody this year.

Hope burns eternity!

Chuck

August 16th, 2012
4:48 pm

Terry Hoage wasn’t highly recruited, either. You can’t measure their heart like you can height and the 40-time.

Carew Rowell

August 16th, 2012
4:48 pm

eternal…sorry typo

Spanky

August 16th, 2012
4:49 pm

Ruuudy,Ruuudy,Ruuudy,…(start the slow clap)..LOL

All kidding aside, this is awesome, and gets me even more excited for kick-off time!! Go Dawgs!!

wally

August 16th, 2012
4:50 pm

Go get um big boy. It’s good to hear something good to come out of Athens.

Erk

August 16th, 2012
4:59 pm

This reminds me of how Terry Hoag was not heavily recruited, who ended up being one of Dooley’s all time favorite players.

THE Dixie Redcoat Band

August 16th, 2012
5:04 pm

Wouldn’t it be great to have 20 more of these guys….

GTBob

August 16th, 2012
5:06 pm

So UGA is starting a player that Georgia Southern didn’t even consider? Good luck with that National Championship run!

Champion Dawg

August 16th, 2012
5:09 pm

Attention Georgia Bulldawgs on with great talent and on scholarship, You still have to play with heart. National Championship teams have load of players with heart. Our TEAM, Our TIME, NO REGRETS!!

Champion Dawg

August 16th, 2012
5:13 pm

GTBob, my coach, Coach Mark Richt and his staff have a way of sifting for gold and diamonds. Good luck with pj. Most of Tech’s players are not the hottest of recruited hot shots.

I-DOG

August 16th, 2012
5:14 pm

fullback just seems to be one of those positions where a walk on can have a big impact on a an SEC program. Congrats to Hall on overcoming some early disapointments to have a shot at starting in the SEC for Georgia!

We have been very lucky with the lack of injuries this Spring and so far this pre-season practice. Can’t remember so little in the way of players missing significant time for injuries. Hope that continues!

kingdaddy

August 16th, 2012
5:15 pm

Boy needs a nickname…

Brainiac (CMR/UGA Fan For Life)

August 16th, 2012
5:17 pm

Any investigations going on at The BARN today???????????????????

LoyalDog

August 16th, 2012
5:19 pm

I see Mack Strong surprising the defense with a quick burst up the middle. Great play.

Greg

August 16th, 2012
5:21 pm

GTBob, I bet he pops every linebacker you guys have. Your “so called” linebackers. We got wide outs bigger than those guys.

Anways, good luck Merritt and knock some people on their butts! I can’t wait to see him pop some people!

kingdaddy

August 16th, 2012
5:22 pm

Bob,
GT offered 4 walk-ons a scholarship today. Are they just “practice dummies”??? You didn’t even read the article, did you Bob???

Greg

August 16th, 2012
5:24 pm

He must be really special because Bobo and Richt are very hesistant to name people as starters as quickly as they did Merritt. We haven’t had a true, hard nosed fullback since Brennan Southerland. He beat out Samuel who is big and physical, and he also beat out the freshman Hicks who has great size for a FB. Merritt Hall is gonna be a DGD.

kingdaddy

August 16th, 2012
5:24 pm

What’s up Brain???

GTBob

August 16th, 2012
5:25 pm

Most of Tech’s players are not the hottest of recruited hot shots.

I am going to go out on a limb here and claim that all of our starters could have made the team at Georgia Southern.

kingdaddy

August 16th, 2012
5:28 pm

Greg
CMR may be trying to light a fire under Hicks and Samuel or Merritt may be for real. I’m thinking he’s real…

GTBob

August 16th, 2012
5:28 pm

GT offered 4 walk-ons a scholarship today. Are they just “practice dummies”??? You didn’t even read the article, did you Bob???

I did read the article, and yes, aside from Scully they are pretty much practice dummies.

Fullback

August 16th, 2012
5:31 pm

What happened to A. Ogletrees brother who played fullback?

GTBob

August 16th, 2012
5:31 pm

GTBob, I bet he pops every linebacker you guys have. Your “so called” linebackers. We got wide outs bigger than those guys.

Our linebackers are actually bigger then yours.

I dropped my fried twinkie

August 16th, 2012
5:32 pm

Isn’t that CROWELL did too?

umyboyBlue17

August 16th, 2012
5:35 pm

Every team needs a head buster in the back field.

collegeballfan

August 16th, 2012
5:35 pm

Wonderful story Tucker. I absolutely love these stories. A player is a player is a player!

So UGA is starting a walk-on. Every dawg fan seems pleased.

Yet when GT starts a walk-on every Dawg slimes the player.

And when UGA starts a walk-on every GT fan slimes the player.

This always reminds me the story of the blind leading the blind. Or the story of Pavlov’s trained dogs.