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October 28, 2007
Alabama's football team was just plain average.
Hall was just plain anonymous.
And its coach was, well, just plain.
As the senior wide receiver from Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., closes his college career in the next month-plus-bowl, his assault on
But the greatest receiving career in Alabama history was certainly slow-cooked.
His freshman year wasn't the sort of splash usually needed to eventually take an eraser to the scrolls of history. In fact, his 186 yards that year were only one yard better than what he posted in one afternoon last weekend. Hall's 676-yard campaign as a sophomore in 2005 foretold a solid career, not a great one. And with Tyrone Prothro thrilling Crimson Tide fans with nearly every touch during Hall's first season and a half on campus, it's not hard
"He does a great job of getting open and a great job using his hands," said first-year coach Nick Saban. "D.J.'s having a fantastic season for us."
The early signs of an emerging star were just scattered moments of brilliance.
He capped his freshman year with a season-high five receptions in a Music City Bowl loss to Minnesota, but that was hardly the birthplace of his arrival. He blistered Southern Miss for 130 receiving yards early in his sophomore year, but that was too small a stage for much notice, particularly with Prothro's miracle catch - later tabbed for Daniel Moore immortality - occurring on the same night.
No, if the origin of Hall's greatness must
"I'll always remember that one," Hall said earlier this year. "Mainly because we needed it so much right then. Brodie just looked at me in the huddle and said, 'Run, because I'm coming to you'. And for a sophomore, that meant a lot. He threw it up, and I did what I had to do to come down with it."
While Croyle and Hall certainly developed a chemistry for the balance of that season, it was the next passer in Alabama's line of signal callers that really paid dividends for Hall. It was somewhat fitting that as quarterback John Parker Wilson cleaned up the mess of Alabama's 28-18 loss
"He's a playmaker," said Wilson. "He just gets open no matter how many guys are on him."
As a junior, Hall tallied a school-record 1,056 yards, more than half of Ozzie Newsome's career record of 2,070, which he passed earlier this season. His five consecutive 100-yard games in 2006 were also a school mark, coming against Arkansas, Florida, Duke, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Against the Volunteers, he mimicked Prothro with an astounding catch that required his hands to go around a defender's back.
No, there would never be another Prothro. But as Hall makes a run at 3,000 career yards over the next month and breaks whatever school records he hasn't already broken, it's become clear there will never be another quite like him, either.
Bobby Moore is one of the only people who can look you in the eye without blinking and say Hall was destined for his own greatness. The athletic director and football coach at Ft. Walton Beach (Fla.) Choctawhatchee High still talks to his former player about once a week.
"What separated him was his work ethic in practice," Moore said. "He was very mature about improving himself at a pretty young age."
Hall caught 25 touchdown passes in a run-first offense over his last two years at Choctaw. His senior season, facing North Florida powerhouse Tallahassee Lincoln in the third round of the playoffs, Hall caught three touchdown passes and returned a punt 75 yards despite an ankle sprain in
"As a ninth grader, he just had two things going for him," Moore said. "He was tall, and he could run. But he was too good an athlete for us not to use, and he got a little better every year he was here, just like he's gotten a little better every year he's been at Alabama."
That's eight consecutive years of steady improvement if Moore is to be believed, and Hall should have every chance to make it a ninth in the National Football League.
Thanks largely to Hall, this year's turkey may be carved over travel plans for Atlanta instead of Shreveport.