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October 28, 2007

The Sunday Yarn: Hall of Fame

Check out T.G. Paschal's D.J. Hall photo gallery here.

Back in 2004, when DJ Hall was a true freshman, nobody could have seen it coming.

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
Most receptions, game
1.D.J. HallTennessee200713
t2.David BaileyTennessee196912
t2.David BaileyTennessee197012
t4.D.J. HallUtah State200511
t4.Quincy JacksonBYU199811
t4.Dennis HomanSouthern Miss196811
the Alabama record books could be better described as an ambush than a four-year occupation. Back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons - which a healthy November for Hall should almost certainly bring - is enough to set the receiving bar at a school that has made its storied history mostly with a running game.

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
Most receptions, season
1.Freddie Milons199965
2.D.J. Hall200662
3.David Palmer199361
4.David Bailey196956
5.David Bailey197055
6.Dennis Homan196754
7.Lamonde Russell198951
8.D.J. Hall (active)200750
to see how Hall's greatness sneaked up on the Alabama Nation.

"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
Most receptions, career
1.D.J. Hall (active)2004-present177
2.Freddie Milons1998-01152
3.David Bailey1969-72132
4.Lamonde Russell1987-90108
t5.Antonio Carter1999-04106
t5.Curtis Brown1991-95106
be pinpointed, the date would have to be Oct. 22, 2005. At that time, Alabama's offense had come off the tracks in the absence of Prothro, whose leg was broken in horrifying fashion only three weeks earlier. The Crimson Tide had scored just one touchdown in seven quarters since Prothro's injury as it struggled to break a 3-3 fourth-quarter tie with archrival Tennessee. Following Roman Harper's forced fumble through the Alabama end zone - another Daniel Moore moment - Hall reeled in a 43-yard catch along the visiting sideline from Brodie Croyle that converted a third-and-8.

"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."

Most receiving yards, game
1.David PalmerVanderbilt1993217
2.David BaileyAuburn1967187
3.D.J. HallTennessee2007185
4.Toderick MaloneGeorgia1994173
5.D.J. HallArkansas2007172
What he had to do to come down with it was the subject of outrage for Tennessee coaches, who believed Hall was guilty of a push-off just before the catch and called for a penalty. No officials' hands went for any pockets, however, and Alabama's game-winning drive against the Volunteers suddenly had its jump-start. Jamie Christensen's 35-yard field goal with 13 seconds left gave Alabama a 6-3 win, and with 10 catches for 139 yards, Hall took the torch from Prothro as UA's go-to receiver in front of a national CBS audience.

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
Most rec. yards, season
1.D.J. Hall20061,056
2.David Palmer19931,000
3.Dennis Homan1967820
4.Ozzie Newsome1977804
5.David Bailey1970790
6.David Bailey1969781
7.D.J. Hall (active)2007764
to Auburn in 2005, he capped a feel-good touchdown with a two-point conversion pass to Hall. It merely made a 28-18 loss look two points more respectable than it was, but to the chagrin of Alabama opponents for the following two years, it was a two-yard pass for a combination that still had about 2,000 yards left in it.

"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.

Most receiving yards, career
1.D.J. Hall (active)2004-present2,682
2.Ozzie Newsome1974-772,070
3.Freddie Milons1998-011,859
4.David Bailey1969-711,857
5.David Palmer1991-931,611
"It's a blessing," said Hall. "I don't know how many more records are out there, but I guess I'm going to try and get them all."

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
Most receiving TDs, career
1.Dennis Homan1965-6718
t2.Ozzie Newsome1974-7716
t2.D.J. Hall (active)2004-present16
4.Joey Jones1980-8315
an upset win over the Trojans. A former high school coach in Tuscaloosa, Moore is wrapping up his eighth season as coach at Choctaw, and in that time, only one freshman has ever roamed his varsity sideline: D.J. Hall.

"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.

Most career 100-yard games
1.D.J. Hall (active)2004-present13
2.Ozzie Newsome1974-776
t3.David Bailey1969-715
t3.Dennis Homan1965-675
This season, Hall has saved his two best-ever games for when his new coach, Nick Saban, needed them most. A 172-yard effort against Arkansas on Sept. 15 was a career high for Hall, lifting the Crimson Tide to a 41-38 win and a quick start out of the SEC gate. Five weeks later, Hall embarrassed Tennessee's secondary for the third time in three years with a school record 13 catches and a new personal-best 185 yards in a 41-17 win. That victory sent Alabama into a November that really matters: the difference between playing for the SEC West and jockeying for minor bowl status. Indeed, Crimson Tide fans have grown weary of the latter as a Thanksgiving conversation piece.

Thanks largely to Hall, this year's turkey may be carved over travel plans for Atlanta instead of Shreveport.

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