PETTICOAT JUNCTION — Carneal Hall's status on the Silver Bluff football team has changed drastically in the last year.
During the Bulldogs' run to the 2013 Class AA, Division II championship game, Hall was the lone junior on the offensive line. He joined a group of seniors – Avery Corbett, Alex Graham, James Jacks and Gyasi Yeldell – with plenty of experience under their belts.
Flash forward a year, and even though there are two other seniors – Ramon Ruffin and Justin Connelly – on that line with him, neither has the base of game experience Hall has. The other two of the starting five – Brandon Dooley and Marlow Jones – are sophomores, and he's the lone senior in the defensive front seven.
That makes Hall the leader of the team's core, a role he has embraced.
“I enjoy the responsibility,” he said. “I feel like it was something I have to do.”
Head coach Al Lown was glad to see Hall emerge in that capacity. With just eight seniors on the roster, Neal is the only one starting both ways, which gives him a unique presence on the team.
“I believe that's been the one thing … I've been pleasantly pleased with that he's done this year,” Lown said.
Lown intentionally avoided saying he was surprised with Hall's leadership because of the lineman's pedigree within the program. When Lown was an assistant coach during the early days of Silver Bluff football, he coached Hall's father.
“I think Carneal's known what Silver Bluff was about,” he said.
In addition to that, Hall got some encouragement during the 2013 season, while he was working with that group of seniors. Graham saw a motivational speaker reference the progression of the airplane, from the original machine capable only of short flights to the massive jets of today's airlines, as a metaphor for striving to be great. He then talked to Hall about pushing to be a “747.”
That became a theme for the group during the run to the title game, and it's something that still sticks with Hall.
“And ‘747' just means to go past where you think you can go,” he said. “That's probably something I'll carry with me the rest of my life.”
While Hall may have become a leader on both sides of the ball, he said he feels most comfortable on defense. He said he likes to bring intensity to the Bulldog defense, something that has been apparent to the coaching staff.
“It's been quite obvious,” Lown said. “All you've got to do is watch the film, and you can see how explosive he is off the ball, moreso than he was last year.”
Hall, who said he has received attention from The Citadel, Coastal Carolina, Furman, Presbyterian and Towson, credits workouts both with the team and on his own with the increase in aggressiveness in his game.
That aggression has needed to be dialed down in some aspects, though. While assistant coach Keith Radford and past player leaders could be hard on players like Hall, the younger, less experienced Bulldogs require a different approach.
“Coach Radford told me … if they make a mistake, you can't get mad at them,” Hall recalled with a smile.
Instead, Radford has worked with Hall on how to teach his young counterparts the way to correct their mistake and move on. Hall was quick to point out that there are lots of plays in every game and plenty of opportunities to make up for a gaffe, even as his patience may have been tested by an 0-2 start for the Bulldogs.
“I just tell them to keep their heads up,” he said. “We've just got to keep playing football.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.