Friday Night Hero: South Rowan’s Justin Hall

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 27, 2009

By Mike London
LANDIS ó Miserable, 90-degree temperatures blistered South Rowan’s practice Wednesday afternoon, but Justin Hall bounced around like the whole world was air-conditioned.
Hall, a 5-foot-8, 260-pound defensive tackle, treads that fine line between pudgy and stocky, but the popular fireplug paid dues all summer to make sure stocky won out. As a result, his senior football season should be a joy instead of a job.
“He fought a battle with cramps last year,” defensive line coach Danny Crosby said. “He was always soaking wet at practice, always going for water, always gasping for air. But he trimmed himself up for this year, and he’s a good example of what a summer conditioning program can do. Now he’s a kid having fun.”
Hall had tons of fun in South’s 38-20 victory against Salisbury last Friday. Salisbury always has success running fullback traps, but it never made significant yards between the tackles.
“Salisbury runs that trap play 8-10 times a game,” Crosby said. “Even more if successful. But I don’t remember them running it at all in the second half.”
It wasn’t working. If the Hornets ran fullback Ike Whitaker on first-and-10, they were looking at second-and-8 or second-and-9. Whitaker’s good, but if there’s no hole, there’s nowhere to go.
Part of it was a Salisbury O-line that’s learning on the job. Part of it was South defensive end Cadarreus Mason making a surprise appearance at middle linebacker. Part of it was Hall, the “3-technique” in South’s scheme. He had a firm grip on a Salisbury ballcarrier every few seconds.
“Our coaches kept telling me to watch out for the trap,” Hall said. “I happened to read it a few times and made the plays.”
Veteran assistant coach Tim Corriher pointed out that Hall’s upgraded physique has enabled him to play lower. Leverage is everything in the trenches.
Corriher and the rest of the staff have high expectations. They were stingy with grades for the opener. Not a single Raider graded out.
“But Hall was closest,” head coach Jason Rollins said. “We’d roll the film and he just kept standing out. He made so many plays and that allowed us to try to stop some of Salisbury’s option stuff. When you’ve got Cadarreus hitting ’em high and Hall hitting low, that’s pretty stout. People want to run inside, God bless ’em.”
Hall’s biggest asset is nimbleness that belies his blocky body type. He has quick feet to go along with his obvious strength.
“He really is a very good athlete,” Rollins said. “He can shoot a 3-pointer like nobody’s business.”
Rollins often refers to Hall as “Tank,” a nickname universally employed by Hall’s teammates. If you asked them about Justin, they’d have no idea who you were talking about.
Hall explained he got tagged with the armored nickname early in his athletic life, and it’s stuck like Velcro.
“It goes back to when I was 7 or 8 playing baseball,” Hall said. “I was short and kinda wide, but I could move pretty quick like a tank. And I could always run people over.”
Hall was a late addition to South’s baseball team last spring. He didn’t play often, but he and his football coaches believe baseball factored into his improved conditioning.
“Just staying active helped,” Hall said.
South’s impressive collection of skilled senior athletes ó QB Blake Houston, backs D’Andre Harris and Thomas Lowe and receiver B.J. Grant ó more than lived up to the hype on Friday, but the spotlight also widened to include unsung guys such as Hall.
Hall credits South’s offensive line for pushing him daily in practice and vows to keep working and smiling.
An even bigger test for Hall and his teammates comes tomorrow ó A.L. Brown. The Raiders have beaten the Wonders only seven times in their history, and South’s been watching scary film all week of swift Travis Riley trampling Statesville Greyhounds
“I’m looking at the Brown game same as I did the Salisbury game,” Hall said quietly. “We’ve just got to come out and do what we’re supposed to do and play the way that we’re capable of playing. If we do that, we can win some football games.”