REFORM, Ala. — Time away from the sport taught Pickens County High School senior running back De’Marko Hall how much the game of football means to him.
After missing his ninth and 10th grade years due to discipline issues, Hall returned to the field with a vengeance.
This season, Hall ran for more than 1,400 yards, topped 1,200 yards receiving, and scored 43 all-purpose touchdowns. The touchdown total was 15 better than the previous school record.
For his accomplishments, Hall is The Dispatch’s West Alabama Offensive Player of the Year for 2011.
“As far as the big picture goes, we missed out because we wanted to win state,” said Hall, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back/wide receiver and defensive back. “We tried to win state, but since I helped the younger players out, I feel this has been a good season. I can take great pride on how I am leaving the program. We got to the third round, and that is an accomplishment.”
Pickens County 11-2 overall and second in Class 1A, Region 4 play before losing to defending state champion Sweet Water 38-36 in a third-round playoff shootout.
Led by sophomore quarterback Devonte Simon, the high-octane offense averaged 44.8 points per game. Coach Patrick Plott lives to move the chains with a hurry-up offense, which includes throwing the ball over the field.
Hall’s skills enhance Pickens County’s ability to stretch the field and keep defenders on their heels.
“He had an explosion which was rarely matched this season,” said Plott, who just completed his first season in his second stint as coach. “He could take a 5-yard pass the distance. He really added a level of explosiveness you rarely see with the opponents we face. De’Marko led by example. If it was block for somebody, catch a pass, or step it up in practice or a team meeting, he did a great job of being a leader.”
After playing football in eighth grade, Hall ran afoul of school officials. A disciplinary issue toward the end of the school year saw him kicked out of school for 18 months. The time away made him miss the game. It also made him develop a better understanding between right and wrong.
“I didn’t do anything wrong, but I wasn’t in the right place so I was held responsible,” Hall said. “I haven’t been in any trouble since then. You can look at my grades, all As and Bs. I am an Honor Roll student and I haven’t made any more mistakes.
“Sometimes, you got lessons to learn. I don’t bully anymore. I don’t get in trouble any more. I am a changed person.”
Plott was in the school system when in the incident happened. Away from Pickens County when Hall returned to school, Plott is fortunate Hall worked his way back into good graces and back on to the football field.
“De’Marko has grown up a lot,” Plott said. “Incidents happen. How you learn from them defines you as a person. Now he keeps his cool. For two years now, he has done the right things on and off the field. We all go through mistakes. We all have to mature. He has really done that. He has grown into becoming a man.”
While Hall learned about himself as a person, he also learned about himself as a football player.
“I came back as a hungry player,” Hall said. “I wanted the ball more. This was my second chance, and I planned to make the most of it. I knew then I had to set an example. I didn’t want anybody else to make the mistakes that I did.”
Plott said Hall was part of a talented senior class that did far more for the program than winning football games.
“We had a tremendous group of seniors,” Plott said. “They did a great job of leadership. It started back in the spring. Every single day they were working hard to make sure we could have the best season possible. Discipline is a big part of our program.
“Our seniors set the standard which will be followed for years to come.”
While appreciative of his teammates’ support, Hall felt his words carried weight in the locker room.
“This team had a lot of heart,” Hall said. “I told them at the beginning of the year, if you are scared, stay in here. Otherwise, everybody come out and does battle with us. This team had the biggest heart possible. We competed every play all year long.”
While Pickens County started the season with a fine-tuned offense, the story of the season may have been the emergence of a rock-solid defense. Pickens County only allowed three touchdowns in playoff victories against Johnson and Brantley.
“We weren’t practicing too much on offense this year because we knew we were good there,” Hall said. “To win a championship, we knew we had to be a good defensive team. We made some big plays, but we had some interceptions and fumbles we couldn’t get there at the end that hurt us.”
While the senior class set an example, Plott and Hall feel the Tornadoes could emerge as a favorite next season in Class 1A.
“We were just trying to set an example of how hard you have to work,” Hall said. “Hopefully somebody on the next level will do the same thing for me. In college, I will need players to teach me some things. Here at Pickens County, I am hopefully leaving guys something so that next year they can go to the championship game.”
Hall feels prepared for the next level. He considers his biggest influence to be University of Alabama junior tight end Michael Williams, also a former Pickens County standout.
“(Williams) has taught me a lot about the game,” Hall said. “He is always coming around here and telling me how to be better at my position. He tells me what I am doing wrong and how I can get my team straight.”
With his transgressions in the past, Hall’s future looks bright. He said the recruiting process is picking up steam and the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Tennessee and Auburn University have shown the most recent attention.
“De’Marko will be an asset on the next level,” Plott said. “He is very coachable and has a good work ethic. Some coaching staff will be lucky after they take a chance on him. He has really grown up and matured a lot. He will be a good fit for somebody.”
Hall, who also plays basketball and competes on the track and field team at Pickens County, is ready for that next challenge.
“I am excited about playing with the big dogs,” Hall said. “They can keep my records in the stat book here; however, I am ready to go on to a new life.”
Regardless of where the new life carries him, Hall will remember fondly the opportunity of a second chance at Pickens County.
“When you run through the tunnel for one of our rival games, it was insane,” Hall said. “It was like Alabama versus Auburn. It was really wild.”
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.