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Division I-A football or bust for this 'tweener

Demetrice Hall refuses to play for a Division I-AA school despite having four offers.

Choosing where to go to college can be one of the most difficult decisions of your life.

If you're being recruited to play college football, the difficulty can multiply exponentially.

Demetrice Hall knows all about this. His saga seems like a simple success story. Hall, a good student and good football player for Clearwater Central Catholic, has been offered scholarships by four Division I-AA colleges _ Fordham (N.Y.), The Citadel (S.C.), Holy Cross (Mass.) and Bucknell (Pa.).

But it's not as simple as signing with one of the four on Wednesday, signing day. Hall wants to stay close to home, and he really wants to play Division I-A football. The problem is, the Division I-A schools in Florida aren't offering him a scholarship. A 5-foot-11, 175-pound cornerback, Hall is considered too slow to play Division I-A football.

"Does Demetrice run a 4.3, 4.4 40 (-yard dash)? No, he doesn't, and that's why they're backing off," Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis said. "The question mark is his speed."

He is a classic 'tweener. Big enough and fast enough for I-AA, but not for big-time college football.

At least that's the opinion of the college coaches. Hall refuses to accept that assessment.

"I ran a 4.5, and I got a bad start," Hall said. "I know I'm 4.4 material, and I know I can play at the highest level."

Hall is no different from hundreds of recruits across America _ not quite big enough or not quite fast enough or not quite something enough to get the offer they want.

"You always see some guy who's playing (in college) who they said was too small or too slow," Davis said. "With linemen, they're only looking for guys who are 6-3 (or taller), even when the starting center on their own team might be 6 feet. Look at (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 6-1, 270-pound defensive tackle) Brad Culpepper. He's not supposed to be big enough, and he's great.

"They get caught up in size and speed, and to a certain extent they have to. But sometimes that means they miss a kid who can play."

Despite a thorough effort from Hall and Davis to get the attention of the big schools, most only showed a passing interest.

Central Florida has invited Hall to join the team as a preferred walk-on. If a couple of recruits who have orally committed to UCF back out and sign somewhere else, the Knights might have a scholarship for him.

Scholarship or no scholarship, Hall has unwavering confidence in his ability, and he believes Division I-A college coaches are making a mistake by overlooking him.

"Very frustrating, very frustrating," Hall said of his inability to generate I-A scholarship offers. "I want to prove them very wrong."

UCF is the only Division I-A program that showed consistent interest in Hall. Even though it is not giving him a scholarship, Hall _ who has a 3.2 grade point average, scored a 910 on his SAT and plans to major in pre-law _ has big plans for his career there.

Hall said his parents support his decision because they don't want him to go far from home. And Hall would like to stay near his father, who has glaucoma. But the offers he has passed up . . .

"When the Bucknell coaches tell me their average graduate comes out making $60,000 a year, yeah, it bothers me a little (that Hall won't consider going there)," Davis said. "Here's an African-American young man who can go to one of the most prestigious schools in the country. I know what that can do for the young man."

At the same time, Davis admires Hall's resolve.

"Everyone has explained what an opportunity he's getting, but he simply will not be talked out of his goals," Davis said. "His goal is to play Division I, period."

Hall doesn't like cold weather and won't consider playing Division I-AA football. That would be conceding he can't play with the best.

"At UCF, it's more exposure, it's better football, it's real football," Hall said. "I'm used to playing against the best. People think at CCC we didn't play anybody, but we can beat anybody in this area."

Though Hall insists he will go to UCF, a Holy Cross coach called Davis last week to say they would hold a scholarship for Hall for a little while beyond signing day, hoping he'll change his mind.

Hall played for Dixie Hollins his first three years of high school. He transferred to Clearwater Central Catholic because he felt it would benefit his football and academics.

It is a major commitment, because CCC is about a half-hour drive each way from Hall's home in south St. Petersburg. Most of the time, Hall gets a lift to and from school from teammate Paul Condron.

"At (Dixie Hollins), it's not disciplined," Hall said. "CCC has way better coaching. It's better athletically and academically. I thought CCC would be better. I made the right choice."

CCC had a good season, as did Hall. The Marauders advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in school history. In CCC's season-ending loss to Sarasota Cardinal Mooney, Hall had an interception and a sensational one-handed touchdown catch. He was named second-team All-Pinellas County on defense.

Some of Hall's neighborhood buddies also had good seasons. Dixie Hollins running back Thomas McCray rushed for 1,001 yards. Eric Jelks, whom Hall tried to get to go to CCC with him, led the county in rushing with 1,535 yards for St. Petersburg Catholic.

"We're a football neighborhood," Hall said. "There are a whole bunch of good football players around here."

Sibling competition _ Hall is the sixth of nine children _ and his lifelong passion for football have helped develop Hall's burning desire to prove the skeptics and the doubters wrong. He used to wrestle and run track, but now he said he works out every day to get better for football, and he's going to join a track club to help improve his speed.

Hall would like to win the Heisman Trophy. It sounds like a fantasy coming from a kid who isn't a Blue Chip recruit, but others have come from seemingly nowhere to achieve great things. Former Florida State All-American Andre Wadsworth was a walk-on.

"Who's to say Demetrice can't make it?" Davis said. "Given a fair shot, he very well may play well (at UCF). A perfect example is (St. Louis Rams quarterback) Kurt Warner. He was told a lot of times he wasn't good enough, and look what he's done."

Hall will be one of hundreds of walk-ons across America hoping to buck the odds.

"Make sure you write about the Heisman Trophy I'm going to win and the national championship Central Florida's going to win," Hall said. "It's going to happen."

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