The scar on Maurice Hall’s stomach serves as a constant reminder of where he was and where he wants to be.
A highly talented wide receiver and linebacker at Gibbs High School, Hall was poised to have a breakout junior year last fall. The Gladiators (2-1) had just come off a 53-13 win over Spoto, in which Hall caught a touchdown pass, when his life changed.
While walking to a birthday party just a couple blocks from his house on the night of Saturday, Sept. 15, a green station wagon slowed in front of Hall and a friend at 10th Avenue S. and 14th Street. Shots came from the car. Before Hall could get away, he was hit in the right hip. The bullet lodged near his stomach and colon.
After surgery to remove the bullet, Hall spent a week at Bayfront Medical Center recovering. Ten days after the shooting, he returned to school. But his football season was over. He also missed most of basketball season, but did return this spring to run track.
“I never thought it would happen to me,’’ Hall said. “But it did. I was walking around the corner to get to the party. I remember a station wagon driving away from the scene and that’s it.’’
Something to prove
Hall could do nothing but heal and reflect the first six weeks. Prior to the shooting, he took things, especially football, for granted.
In the three games he did play, he had six catches for 152 yards (a 25.3 yard per catch average) and two touchdowns. He also had 16 tackles as a linebacker.
After the shooting, he said his perspective changed. He could only watch as his team practiced and played games. Gibbs won only once more without Hall.
“It was really difficult,’’ he said. “It was very frustrating. But I think it was a wake-up call. It was telling me to stop doing the stuff I was doing, going to parties and stuff like that.
“I don’t go out anymore unless I’m with my family.’’
Hall said he also gives more attention to academics. He stays after school for extra help in certain classes. He realizes that if his grades improve, coupled with his football talent, he could earn a scholarship to a Division-I college.
The first school to offer him, Oklahoma, has backed off — “they haven’t talked to me since the accident,’’ Hall said — but first-year Gibbs coach Rick Kravitz said others have offered this spring, including USF, UCF, Cincinnati, Marshall, Kentucky and Iowa State.
“He is very motivated to do well,’’ Kravitz said. “He knows that if he works hard and keeps his grades, he can go anywhere.’’
Corey Long, a recruiting analyst who founded Fuelrecruiting.com and formerly contributed to ESPN, has known Hall for years. Long thinks Hall’s potential is unlimited, as indicated by college assistants making their way to St. Petersburg.
“He was poised to have a pretty good season before the accident,’’ Long said. “He did well on the 7-on-7 circuit and colleges really liked him. He’s got the size and he’s a very good athlete, tremendously versatile. Once they saw he recovered the offers started coming in.
“Maurice is a kid who is always going to have to grind. He wasn’t born already on third base. He has to work hard for everything and he knows that. Colleges are excited about him and he knows that if he works through it he can take some of the burden off his life.’’
Perhaps no player was happier to see spring practices than Hall. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder put on the pads for a sport he thought he might never play again.
“I have a lot of stuff to prove,’’ Hall said. “I’ve got to show (college coaches) that I can still play. That I’m the same player I was before the accident.’’
Life goes on
There have been no chargers in the drive-by shooting that injured Hall. He said friends told him it might be someone from a nearby neighborhood, but he doesn’t dwell on that night much.
He admits, though, it’s hard to forget completely.
“I still think about it, but I’ve got to put it behind me,’’ Hall said. “I have to move on.’’
At the time of the shooting, former Gibbs coach Antonio Knox, who resigned at the end of the season, said Hall was starting to mature.
“When he was in the ninth grade, you could tell that he had talent and he just needed some guidance,’’ Knox said. “He’s come a long way.’’
Hall is back to his regular routine. School, football, study. Repeat.
Now that football is back in his life, he said he’ll never take it for granted again.
“I’m so excited to be back out there, you don’t even know,’’ said Hall, who will see his first game action since the fall on Friday when Gibbs hosts Northeast.
“I can’t wait to play again. And we should be good, too.’’
Rodney Page can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @RodneyHomeTeam.