What‚Äôs a guy who didn‚Äôt have a single scholarship offer out of high school, who was invited to walk-on at Georgia Southern and Jacksonville State, doing practicing with the starting unit for a top-10 Georgia football team?
‚ÄúJust being a physical football player has probably been my biggest asset helping me get to where I am now,‚Äù said Merritt Hall, a redshirt freshman who entered the preseason No. 1 on the depth chart at fullback. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm not afraid to go in there and hit somebody. I‚Äôm not the biggest guy on the field, I‚Äôm not the fastest, but I‚Äôll hit somebody.‚Äù
Somebody or something.
Hall knocked the padding off a blocking sled during a drill in Friday‚Äôs practice.
‚ÄúSo many people talk about him being 216 pounds, but he has a fight,‚Äù said true freshman Quayvon Hicks, working as the No. 2 fullback. ‚ÄúIt doesn‚Äôt matter how big you are, it doesn‚Äôt matter what you look like. He‚Äôs perfecting the game, he‚Äôs mastering the position. He‚Äôs going to be a great asset to the team. ‚Ä¶ He‚Äôs extremely explosive.‚Äù
Actually, the 5-foot-11 Hall said he‚Äôs gained 20 pounds since arriving at Georgia and is now up to 233.
Hall was his region‚Äôs defensive player of the year as a linebacker at the private Wesleyan School in Norcross, but Georgia asked him to come out as a preferred walk-on to play fullback.
He made his presence felt last season on the scout team.
‚ÄúLast year when he redshirted, I could see him popping some people,‚Äù offensive tackle Watts Dantzler said. ‚ÄúWhen spring came around, he definitely took it up a notch.‚Äù
Hall had an ‚Äúoutstanding‚Äù spring, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. That opened eyes, and as the Bulldogs completed their 11th and 12 preseason practices on Saturday, he‚Äôs still holding down the top spot.
‚ÄúMerritt Hall‚Äôs the best fullback right now,‚Äù Bobo said.
His emergence isn‚Äôt a surprise to sophomore center David Andrews, who grew up with Hall and played with him in high school.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs still got to keep hammering the playbook and learning and getting comfortable with the plays,‚Äù Andrews said. ‚ÄúMerritt is getting really good with the plays and I don‚Äôt think Bulldog fans need to be surprised if you see him run out there on Saturdays.‚Äù
Andrews said Hall was disappointed when a scholarship offer didn‚Äôt come out of high school (Air Force gave him a look), but Bobo invited Hall and tailback Kyle Karempelis to join the Bulldogs as walk-ons. Andrews said Hall was ‚Äúbummed a little bit,‚Äù in the fall while on scout team, but after the departure of Bruce Figgins, there is opportunity at the position.
His strong spring helped Hall grab that surprise spot atop the preseason depth chart.
‚ÄúWe got down on guys and Merritt came in and just lit it up from the first play he was in there,‚Äù running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. ‚ÄúHe was on the third team. He kept doing a good job and I moved him up to second team and he ended up getting first team snaps and consistently did a good job in everything we asked him to do.‚Äù
Now Hall has to hold off Hicks and perhaps Richard Samuel, who is also working at tailback, for the starting spot.
Bobo said he knows his assignments and has made some catches out of the backfield.
‚ÄúMerritt Hall to me is the No. 1 guy,‚Äù coach Mark Richt said Thursday. ‚ÄúMerritt is really doing a great job in my opinion. He‚Äôs not perfect by any means. He knows who to hit. He comes with a lot of hat speed. He‚Äôs putting his hat in the right spot. It‚Äôs important where you place your hat when you strike. He‚Äôs striking. He needs to get better at sustaining a block.‚Äù
Hall has less than three weeks now before Georgia opens its season against Buffalo on Sept. 1 to nail down the No. 1 spot.
‚ÄúI believe in myself,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúIf you want to be at the top, you‚Äôve got to believe that you can be at the top. I want to be at that first spot. I know I can do it. I‚Äôm thankful for the opportunities I‚Äôm getting in camp and thankful for the opportunities they gave me in the spring to put me in this position.‚Äù