As his time at Southeastern Conference Media Days began on Wednesday, Missouri linebacker Terez Hall sat in an Omni Hotel suite and admitted he didn’t think he’d get here.
Because until just last week, he thought the SEC’s annual football media gathering was a low-key event that took place at the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex on MU’s campus. But when the senior learned he was coming to Georgia to be part of the league’s four-day extravaganza, he went to Men’s Wearhouse and bought a custom-fit suit.
“I didn’t know I was going to be at SEC Media Days,” Hall said. “I’m thankful for this, but I already knew where God was going, foreseeing (a football career) for me.”
Of the three players Missouri brought here to the College Football Hall of Fame for SEC Media Days, Hall’s path was the slowest to develop. Unlike Drew Lock, a blue chip quarterback recruit, and defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., the former No. 1 prep prospect in the country, Hall was never earmarked for stardom.
He struggled to stay engaged academically and went to three high schools. First, a military academy. Then, a school that competed in Georgia’s smallest public school division. And finally, a school in suburban Atlanta where he realized his potential.
The journey helped create a work ethic and attitude that has turned him into one of Mizzou’s leaders. In addition to being one of the Tigers’ best defenders, Hall shakes each reporter’s hand before interviews and guides voluntary, players-only summer workouts.
“He’s hungry to be successful,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “He knows the opportunity that he worked himself into. He put himself into position to go have this opportunity.”
When it was time for high school, Hall’s parents first sent him to GMC Prep School, a military academy with “a lot of stuff” the local high school didn’t have, according to Felicia Hall, the linebacker’s mother.
“The weight room, the coaches, the mentors. Everything at their hands,” Felicia Hall said. “… He shouldn’t have had no reason to fall off with the classes, but he focused more on sports than his classwork.”
Hall was at a basketball practice when his father told him he was going to be pulled from the military school because his grades dipped to the point that he could not remain on scholarship. He had to go to that local school, Hancock Central in Sparta, Ga., a town of just more than 1,000 people where Hall said kids’ best entertainment option is playing hide and seek. It was hardly a breeding ground for Division I prospects — and yet Hall said he couldn’t play on varsity as a sophomore because of his grades.
Hall, who played safety and running back at the time, knew he was better than many of the people playing above him, and he said he was “down real bad.” He believed people in Sparta had just a few options: finding a 9-5 job, enlisting in the military or landing a college athletic scholarship. And he had hindered his ability to pursue the only option he was interested in.
But then he received a chance to redeem himself.
His father, an engineer for the state of Georgia, had to relocate, and Hall transferred again — this time to Martin Luther King High School in Lithonia, an Atlanta suburb. The program had a roster loaded with college prospects, and after having to play on junior varsity for three games while waiting for his transcripts to clear, Hall found a spot on MLK’s defensive line.
Still, Hall was undersized to play defensive end in college, and he knew it. When a new head coach at MLK, Nick Kashama, suggested he move to linebacker during one of his first meetings with the then-rising senior, Hall agreed. He quickly took to his new position.
Playing out in space more often as a linebacker, Hall moved well for his size, and he seemed to possess the natural strength that “country boys always have,” according to Kashama.
“The way he hit,” Kashama said. “It was like a grown man playing against little kids.”
Hall tried to act like an adult, too. Rather than let the years of change and academic hurdles stifle his ambition, Hall carried himself with a newfound level of seriousness.
He became a primary enforcer of Kashama’s rule that no one walk on football fields, only run. And each day, he completed 250 pushups.
Hall didn’t know when a college coach might come visit him, so he turned Kashama’s shirt-and-tie game day dress code into an everyday requirement, even after football season ended. He paired a cousin’s hand-me-downs with alligator leather shoes.
“Ain’t nobody going to give you a silver spoon or nothing,” Hall said. “Everybody is going to work their way up.”
Scholarship offers eventually arrived, and the linebacker became overwhelmed. Hall sometimes avoided answering calls from coaches because he didn’t want to talk to all of the people who were suddenly courting him, including Indiana, Nebraska and Mizzou. He asked Kashama to just pick a program for him, but the coach refused. His mother liked Georgia, which came into the picture late.
“There were some moments that maybe 24 hours before signing day, he was wavering a little bit,” Odom said. “I joke with him now that was frustrating. A great family. Tremendous kid. That’s kind of what I thought we were going to get when we were able to get him.”
Hall, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 230 pounds, finished second on MU’s team in total tackles (85) and tackles for loss (12.5) this past season, when he emerged as a steady force at weakside linebacker. But the Tigers felt his presence long before then. Along with Lock and Beckner, Hall was one of eight true freshmen to play in 2015, and Beckner said the linebacker called players out during one of their first workouts at Mizzou.
“That’s his thing,” Beckner said. “He’s just always been like that.”
Hall doesn’t plan to change. Just before he put on his suit jacket and met with reporters on Wednesday, he made sure to complete his pushups.