"He's a guy with great natural ability and he's always done what we wanted him to do, but it was a minimum, frankly, up until after his junior year," McCallie head coach Ralph Potter said when describing Hall's transformation. "In the winter of his junior year, I think he realized how good he could be and he grew up a little bit as far as maturity is concerned. From January through August he just really went all out out as far as his effort and his workouts. He just applied himself, whereas, before while he would do what we asked, he didn't do any extra and he didn't do it with the intensity he did last year."
With Hall's maturation process fully underway, he pushed in offseason conditioning and weight training as never before and produced positive results in both size and strength. UT coaches took further notice of him during the spring evaluation period, but they wanted to see how his effort manifested itself on the field of competition before offering a scholarship.
"Tennessee coaches looked at him last spring and they thought he was a possibility," Potter said, "but they wanted to see how he would do in the fall. He gained about 25 pounds and actually got a little bit faster over the summer. So he ended up being about 6-4, 240 and running a 4.7 and Tennessee saw him against Norte Dame High School rushing the passer and that's when they got real interested in him."
By that time other schools had become interested including: Ole Miss and Alabama in the SEC along with North Carolina, Northwestern and UCLA. Northwestern and OIe Miss extended offers to Hall and North Carolina followed suit. Alabama was prepared to offer, but by that point Hall was convinced he was going to UT.
"Alabama didn't get to that point," Potter said of offering Hall. "They were really interested in him and I think would have offered him, but Jason made it clear to them he was going to commit to Tennessee."
Hall continued to excel during his senior season as the McCallie Blue Tornado tore through a 12-0 campaign and captured the state's Division II-AAA championship. He ended the season with 40 solo tackles and nine sacks on defense against opponents who followed the path of least resistance by running to the other side.
He also developed into a three-tool tight end who could block, catch and run. Hall hauled in 15 receptions for 360 yards an average of 24.0 yards per catch. In a playoff semifinal contest against Memphis Christian Brothers, he caught four passes for 134 yards (33.5 ypc average) and a touchdown.
"He said it wasn't enough," Potter said of Hall's pass-catching opportunities. "Yeah he was a real force for us especially as the year went on. He's an excellent receiver and he has such a big imposing body that he can create a lot of openings for himself."
Hall's excellence on both sides of the line earned him Division II MVP honors. Among league schools were such notable scholastic football powers as Montgomery Bell Academy, Memphis University School, Brentwood Academy, Christian Brothers, Baylor and Nashville Father Ryan.
"We play in a very good league and he was voted MVP of the league as defensive end and tight end," said Potter. "He was, I think, by far the most dominate player in our league. He played well his sophomore and junior years, but there was just a difference in the degree of intensity he played with and certainly he did that last year."
Hall hit his stride during his senior season and the momentum has continued through the offseason. A starting basketball player for the Blue Tornado who once hit a shot at the buzzer to defeat rival Chattanooga Notre Dame, Hall gave up the game during his senior season to concentrate on his booming gridiron career.
"He did play basketball until this year," said Potter."He just got so involved in the recruiting process it was almost like he didn't have time to play. He tried. He did the best he could, but he ended up not playing toward the end of the year."
Hall is a solid student who is fully qualified and plans to major in finance at Tennessee. Last summer he attended a leadership conference at Northwestern for football players and is leader both on and off the field.
He is also making considerable progress n the weight room improving significantly on the 300-pound bench and 400-pound squat he recorded last August.
It's been fun to watch him mature," said Potter. "He's always had just tremendous raw talent and in the past year he really got his priorities in the right order. He can see now an objective that's right in front of him and he's willing to work hard for it. He's very excited about the competition he'll see at Tennessee, and he's preparing himself daily for that. He's a very outgoing person. He's very articulate. He'd be a great teacher, a great spokesman and certainly he's got a personality that's very attractive."
Potter also thinks Hall has what it takes to become an outstanding college football player. No doubt, his upside is among the top of UT's Class of 2002. In fact, Potter thinks Hall has the ability to help Tennessee early and might avoid a redshirt season.
"I think he could easily maintain the same speed he's got and weigh 265-270," he said. "I could easily see that.
"I think that depends more on the needs Tennessee has. They're pretty thin on the defensive line and so I don't know if they're planning on redshirting him or not. I would think not."
Now that Hall knows he's about to be a Division I player, he seems to have awaken to a world of more wondrous possibilities. That's a stark contrast to a year ago.
"I think going into it Jason didn't have it in his mind that he could play at that level," Potter said, "but the interest of the UT coaches kind of woke him up as to what he could do."