Nearly two weeks ago, Maurice Hall lay in a hospital bed in a drug-induced fog, 18 staples holding his stomach together after surgery. The 17-year-old Gibbs High School football player was shot outside a house party on Sept. 15. A bullet pierced his right hip and lodged near his stomach and colon.
The teen returned to school Thursday, with a smile and no sign of the pain he has endured the past few weeks. He walked without crutches.
"I'm just trying to get back to my normal duties," Hall said.
But sports are off-limits.
Hall, a linebacker and receiver, will miss the rest of the season. Doctors also have told Hall that basketball and track are out this school year.
"When I got shot," Hall said, "I knew it was over."
While hospitalized at Bayfront Medical Center last week, Hall quickly wiped tears away as he talked about missing the football season.
Hall was more positive Thursday. The lack of sports will help him focus on his grades and the ACT so he can improve his GPA and his chances of getting a football scholarship at a university, he said.
A junior at Gibbs, Hall already has an offer to play for the University of Oklahoma, a top-notch college football program. Other schools have said they are watching him.
Doctors said they expect him to fully recover and be able to return to sports his senior year.
On Thursday, Hall woke at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for school. He usually walks from his home to the school on 34th Street S. On Thursday, the mom of a football teammate gave him a ride.
Dressed in khaki shorts and a Nike shirt that read, "Just do it," Hall arrived at his first class, U.S. history, where classmates greeted him with hugs.
"They were surprised to see me," Hall said, smiling.
His day continued with physical education, where the teacher ordered him to sit down while his classmates walked laps on the field.
Then came lunch at 10:28 a.m.
"A shoutout to Maurice Hall," a voice said over the sound system. "Welcome back!"
Five lunch lines formed in the cafeteria. Hall passed by each one. He shook hands with friends and football teammates. Some patted him on the back. Many, including a cafeteria worker, hugged him.
Then came the questions: How are you feeling? Are you all right? Did you return for good? Do you know who did it?
Hall doesn't know. Neither do detectives.
They've received some tips, but nothing solid.
"They do believe that there are some folks that are probably out there with some information," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Michael Puetz, "but they are not forthcoming with the police."
The motive of the shooting and whether Hall was even the intended target remain unknown.
Hall's friend Jevonte Holmes was with him the night of the shooting.
The friends were walking near 10th Avenue S and 14th Street when a green car with two or three people inside pulled up. Several shots were fired. The car sped off.
The boys ran. Then Holmes heard his friend scream. He ran back to the party for help.
The friends reunited at lunch Thursday. Hall munched on french fries and drank berry-flavored Gatorade. Holmes ate pizza.
One by one, more students stopped by to say hello.
"Coming back to school," Hall said, "feels good."
Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727) 893-8713 or email@example.com.