Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Where's Vic Hall?

The two men each clutched a fistful of dollar bills.

"They're on the 20," one would say. "Second down. Think he'll score here?"

"Dollar says he does," the other would say.

"You're on."

Then Vic Hall would take the snap, drop back -- and make another doubter pay.

There's probably something terribly immoral about fans making bets on what a high school quarterback is going to do next. But that's how interesting, how amazing, how unbelievable Vic Hall was as Gretna High School's quarterback.

And four years ago, as I watched these two middle-aged men exchange laughs and petty cash in the crowded stands at the Group AA championship game in Lynchburg, it somehow seemed appropriate. Hall was a phenomenon, one of the most explosive high school athletes you'll ever see. Might as well gamble on greatness while you can.

Too bad Al Groh never did.

Today, I flip to page 79 of the University of Virginia media guide and find Hall's biography. I see a header listing "Honors." Below it, this is written:

"2007 -- ACC Specialist of the Week (Oct. 1) vs. Pittsburgh."

That's it.

And that's a shame.

Vic Hall is a cornerback now. He's a redshirt junior and a captain. But he's also one of the greatest "what ifs" ever to play football in this state, thanks to the stubbornness of Groh.

Hall would never tell you this. He is the ultimate company guy, a classy, "yes sir, no sir" type who's going to do what the coach tells him. But that day in Lynchburg, after he capped his record-breaking career with four touchdowns and a second consecutive state title, Hall said he planned to play QB at UVa. Said the coaches told him he'd be a QB at UVa. Said part of the reason he was going to UVa is because he'd get a shot at QB.

That didn't even last a whole season. Hall was moved to the defensive backfield during his redshirt year and has never taken a collegiate snap.

Meanwhile, the quarterback position has become an absolute mess in Charlottesville.

Groh has never fully explained the reasons behind moving Hall. And any time Hall does something that brings back old memories -- like in 2006, when he served as the scout-team version of Reggie Ball in preparation for Georgia Tech, drawing praise from the defense -- Groh has deflected questions about the possibility of Hall ever returning to QB.

"That has no bearing on where we are right now," he said then.

Sure it did. They had just lost games with Kevin McCabe and Christian Olsen under center. The position wasn't exactly "settled." And it still warrants pondering today, as a 1-2 UVa team goes to Duke on Saturday as a touchdown underdog.

Mostly, we've been left to guess why Hall was switched. One theory is that Hall, a Ron Prince recruit, fell out of favor once Groh's son, Mike, recruited Jameel Sewell. How's that working out? Sewell failed to make the grade and is no longer on the roster.

The other theory is that the 5-foot-9 Hall was too short to play QB for an NFL-minded head coach. Try telling Todd Reesing at Kansas that diminutive QBs are doomed to fail.

Meanwhile, last week, Groh's NFL prototype -- the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Peter Lalich -- was dismissed from the team for off-the-field issues. Repeat: This is not the NFL. This is college, where athletic players with strong arms, leadership ability and great instincts have a chance to succeed.

Nothing against Marc Verica, the next starter in line, but it sure would have been nice to see what Hall could do.

Perhaps Groh would play the competition card on Hall. But at some point, 13,770 career yards of total offense -- a VHSL record and the fifth-most by any prep QB in the NATION -- has to count for something.

People wondered what kind of competition Darren Evans was playing in Indiana that would allow him to score a state-record 61 TDs as a senior. He was lightly recruited. And now, as a redshirt freshman, he looks like he could be the next great tailback at Virginia Tech. Can you imagine if they'd moved him to rover without first giving him a carry?

Or how about Angela Tincher, the All-American softball pitcher who carved up small-school competition in high school and only got one scholarship offer. Should the Hokies have moved her to shortstop?

Of course not. At least not before she had a shot to fail at the position she knows best.

Just a chance to make the doubters pay. Something Vic Hall has never truly gotten at Virginia.

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