MOULTRIE — Perhaps all that one really needs to know about Keith Hall is summed in a quote from his former Moultrie High football coach Bud Willis.

“He is probably the best competitor I have ever seen since I’ve been coaching football,” Willis said not long after Hall finished his outstanding three-year career with the Packers with an All-Region performance as a linebacker in 1977. “The coaches love him, the students love him and his peers respect him.”

Hall’s fierce competiveness earned him a scholarship at the University of Georgia, where he walked after playing at Moultrie High.

After playing on Georgia’s 1980 National Championship team, Hall got into coaching and in 1991 returned to Moultrie where he coached the Packers boys basketball team for 12 seasons.

And his outstanding career as a player and a coach, and the respect he has earned from those he been associated with over the last 30-plus years, has qualified him for the Colquitt County Sports Hall of Fame.

When he is inducted next Thursday at the annual banquet, he will join his Hall of Fame father Bill Hall, who played major league baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hall, surprisingly, did not play baseball at Moultrie High. He was a fine basketball player, but it was clear he was made to play on the defensive side of the football.

He first played the game as sixth-grader at Hamilton School in the county elementary league. Darrell Strange, Steve Godwin and Bennie Bullard went to the school during week to practice the players. Hamilton Principal Trell Coleman coached the team during games.

When Hall was in seventh grade, the county program had ended so he played youth football in Pelham.

The following year, he joined the Moultrie eighth-grade team coached by Roy Saturday and played tight end and linebacker.

“I was from the country and I didn’t know a soul,” Hall remembers about going to his first practices.

But he soon proved he belonged.

As a ninth-grader he was back at tight end and linebacker and also played some quarterback.

When the team gathered for spring practice in 1975, Hall was playing quarterback.

“I was very frustrated,” he recalls. “I was uncomfortable. It was awful.”

Hall pleaded with the coaching staff to let him play defense.

“I just asked them to let me do something,” he said.

Finally, defensive assistant Darrell Willett sent him in to a practice at strong safety.

“I had some hits and I started the spring game,” Hall said.

But when practice began for the 1975 season, Hall was listed as the third string strong safety.

He wasn’t third string long. When the Packers opened the season against Monroe with the first of its five straight shutouts, Hall was starting at safety.

The fourth of those shutouts was against Albany and Hall had an interception deep in Packers territory to help keep the scoreless string going.

“I think that was when the team embraced me,” Hall says.

Hall had another interception later in the season in the 28-20 victory over Valdosta.

The Packers lost just one game, a 31-0 decision to the Jim Hughes-coached Thomasville Bulldogs, and finished in a three-way tie with Valdosta and Thomasville.

The region principals voted to allow Valdosta and Thomasville to meet in a playoff, leaving the Packers out in the cold.

It took nine years for the Packers football program to recover.

Hall played linebacker and tight end the next two seasons, but Moultrie High went 4-6 in 1976 and 3-7 in 1977.

The Packers lost their season-finale 47-21 to Dougherty High despite three touchdown passes by sophomore quarterback Greg Robinson, the current Houston County head football coach.

On Jan. 2, 1978, Willis, who had become head coach in 1965 following the death of Knuck McCrary, announced his resignation.

When he stepped down under pressure from certain segments of the community, he was the most successful coach in Packers history, posting a record of 93-34-1.

Hall said at the time that even if the players had known what their record would be, they still would have wanted Willis as their coach.

“He’s a great man,” Hall said recently of Willis, also a member of the Colquitt County Sports Hall of Fame. “He was a great coach and great role model.

“He was just a great presence.”

Hall also played for Kendall Keith, Bill Christopher, Ralph Taylor, Travis Allegood and Doug Tucker while at Moultrie High.

There weren’t nearly as many colleges and universities playing football in the Southeast in 1977 and 1978 as there are today and Hall’s choices were limited.

He was not highly recruited and had decided to go to Troy State.

But the summer after he graduated from Moultrie High in 1978, he went to the beach and while there decided to walk on at Georgia.

He returned and began the application process, but because he applied late, the prospects of getting accepted were slim.

In fact, he received one “quota filled” notice before finally being accepted.

Hall then set about getting in shape to play football in the Southeastern Conference. He worked out relentlessly, rising at 5:30 a.m. to lift weights and, later in the day, to run in combat boots.

As a Georgia sophomore in 1979, he was a terror on the scout team, making life miserable for the first-team backs from his defensive end position in practices.

In a practice before the sixth game of the season, Hall blocked a punt and Bulldogs Coach Vince Dooley yelled out to stop the practice.

“Coach Dooley came out and said, ‘Hall, I’ve been watching you for a long time. I want you to know, you’ve just won a scholarship,’” Hall said.

“I literally fell on my face. The other guys went crazy. They all celebrated.”

Hall said later that night he called his father back in Colquitt County and told he had won a scholarship.

Bill Hall said, “Are you sure?”

And Keith Hall, still incredulous himself, turned to friend and teammate Guy McIntyre, and asked “I did get a scholarship, didn’t I?”

Hall indeed had and in 1980 was a member of the Georgia team that defeated Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim the National Championship.

In 1981, as a senior, he got more playing time as the Bulldogs won a second straight SEC Championship.

“To be on a team that won the SEC two years in a row ... you just don’t know what that means,” Hall said. “Then you realize how few people ever have had that opportunity. It was a blessing.”

After his playing days were finished, Hall remained at Georgia as an assistant to an academic counselor and lived in the dorm while he finished his degree.

He went on to grad school, married and earned his master’s degree in 1986.

He taught physical education and coached at the junior high in Hart County and later went to the high school there as a guidance counselor.

At the high school, he worked the ninth-grade football team and was an assistant to Hart County basketball coach Harry Marsh.

In May 1991, he was hired in hometown, returning as an assistant basketball coach and counselor.

He also worked as a scout for the Packers football team.

In 1993, he became the Colquitt County boys basketball coach and held the job through the 2004-2005 season, when he resigned to become head of the school guidance office.

His resignation also coincided with the graduation of his son John Michael, an All-Region basketball player for the Packers.

Over the last three years, he has been able to watch John Michael play first at Abraham Baldwin College and, last season, at Drake University.

John Michael is a senior at Drake this year.

Keith and Emily also have two daughters who have been outstanding Colquitt County athletes.

Kristin was an All-Region soccer player and now is a student at Georgia. Anna plays soccer, runs cross country and is a cheerleader at the high school.

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