GSU safety Michael Hall enjoys second chance at game
By Ken Sugiura
@ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photos @ Georgia State University
Michael Hall arrived at Georgia State to learn to heal injuries, not inflict them.
Serious and bright, Hall enrolled in the fall of 2007, when a football team at the school was merely an idea. Hall had helped his high school claim a state championship as a senior, but he put the game in his past. He wanted to become a doctor.
But football called, and Hall eventually answered. Four autumns removed from his previous football season, Georgia State's aspiring physical therapist also is a punishing member of the special teams.
Looking back to when he first learned GSU would have a team, Hall said, "It never occurred to me that I'd be in this situation today, actually on the team."
Hall likely will be on the field plenty for the Panthers' game Saturday at Campbell, the team's fourth game in school history. He plays on three of the four special-teams units and plays safety on some passing-down packages.
"He's a great tackler, and he can play," safety Brandon Jones said. Also, "He uses a lot of medical terms and a lot of big words."
Hall arrived at Georgia State from Dublin intent on experiencing college life. The first person in his immediate family to attend a four-year college, he pledged a fraternity and joined a variety of student organizations. He worked part-time jobs and volunteered. And while he cried while watching football as a freshman, his football days were behind him. He had helped Dublin High to a share of the 2006 Class AA championship -- the Irish tied with Charlton County High in the final -- but even when Georgia State announced in April 2008 that it would field a team, he wasn't interested.
Hall, the younger of two children of a single mother who had joined the Army to support her family, was determined to follow the path he had laid out for himself.
"He has always been shooting for the stars from day one," said Hall's mother, Debra Cooper.
But the more he learned about the team, the more he became interested. He had known about coach Bill Curry, for example, because Hall was an Alabama fan, and Curry had coached there.
Last fall, Hall went to an open tryout and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds despite having hardly exercised since coming to college. He was offered a spot on the team, and later Curry offered him a half-scholarship.
"For the most part, I did feel like I was reneging on what I came here for, I really did," Hall said. "But I love the game, so it's kind of like, what do you say?"
Hall has been surprised by football's time demands, but it hasn't stopped him from taking 18 hours and also helping charter a campus group that seeks to support exercise-science students. Hall, who holds a 3.3 GPA as an exercise-science major, compensates by typically getting about five hours of sleep.
He is on track to graduate by the end of next summer and plans to apply to Emory and Georgia State's physical-therapy schools and Emory's nutrition program for his doctorate. He is a junior and has a season remaining, but is keeping quiet about playing next year.
Hall has relished the laughing and joking with teammates and the chance to showcase his hard work in front of thousands. On Georgia State's first kickoff in the opener -- Hall's first play in four years -- he outran teammates to make the first tackle in school history. He calls playing football again "a blessing."
Some decisions, it would seem, are worth reversing.
"I'm not old or anything, but to sit out of something for that long, you would think that you would think that you wouldn't be able to bounce back, but I bounced back," Hall said. "I'm surprised."