The face of Redhawks defense
Southeast junior inside linebacker Zach Hall had one of the finest seasons in Redhawks football history, and the sentiment was further validated Jan. 4 when he was bestowed with the Football Championship Subdivision’s Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the FCS’ defensive player of the year since 1995.
“When I found out I was a finalist, I was shocked,” Hall said. “I wasn’t really sure if I had any chance of winning it, but it was just a great experience and a great opportunity just to be recognized in such a high category.”
The Louisville, Kentucky, native led the Redhawks with 79 tackles a season ago, but his numbers more than doubled during his 2018 campaign.
This season, Hall posted an FCS-high and a school-record 168 tackles as Southeast went 9-4, including 6-0 at home and the school’s first playoff win.
The linebacker did more than just fill gaps in the offense. Hall intercepted the ball a team-high four times, forced four fumbles, recovered two fumbles, blocked a pair of kicks and recorded a safety in his breakout season.
He became the first Southeast player to win a national FCS award.
“It took a lot of hard work in the weight room during the offseason, and at practice also,” Hall said. “I just decided to take my game to the next level by thinking more of, ‘What should I know?’ and ‘What do I need to know?’ And just being a student of the game really helped me. Focusing on different tendencies and stuff like that really helped improve my game and my football IQ.”
Since his season ended, Hall has been named to seven FCS All-America teams and also was chosen as the Athletics Directors Association FCS Defensive Player of the Year.
The 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker also took home the Ohio Valley Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, the fourth time a Redhawk earned the award and first since linebacker Blake Peiffer in 2012.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Hall, who was largely unheralded coming out of high school. He received a few offers to play collegiate football, with Southeast being the only Division I program to give him an offer.
“I wanted to take that chance on myself and see what I really could do,” Hall said. “I’ve always wanted to see wherever football can take me. I’ve loved the game ever since I started playing at 4. It’s done so many great things for me, why not keep it up while it lasts? You only get it once. [SEMO] felt like home when I came on my visit. I really enjoyed the area, the coaches and the players. And it’s home now.”
Hall helped lead the Louisville Male Bulldogs to the Class 6A state championship his senior year of high school, but that feat did not sell scouts on him.
“It wasn’t really a standout season, I would say,” Hall said. “I played my role and I did my job. You did what you had to do and did what you could do for the team. It taught me that you’re not always going to be the head guy. You’re not always going to be the big dog. But as long as your team is doing good and as long as you’re winning, that’s what the game is really about.”
Hall repeatedly states he has a team-first approach to the game, and he backs it up with not only his play on the field but in his recollection of moments spent on and off the field. He claims his favorite football memory has been the teammates he has met throughout the years.
“I’ve met so many great, different kind of guys and different kind of people,” Hall said. “It’s just been a great experience, and I’m really enjoying just the people I’m around more than the game itself.”
This shines true to when he mentioned his favorite game of the season, one where the offense was the star and the defense was less of a factor when the Redhawks beat Southern Illinois 48-44 on Sept. 15.
“As a team, we really clicked and really believed in each other,” Hall said. “It was a shootout; the defense didn’t really have that big of a game. The game was going back and forth, and as a team, we just never gave up. We always believed in each other and we were going to win no matter what.”
Such belief on a personal level is harder to come by. The realization he won the Buck Buchanan Award still has yet to sink in with Hall. He said he does not think it ever will, at least while he is still playing football.
The countless accolades Hall received this year mean just one thing to him, and that is hard work can go a long way.
“I worked really hard to get to where I’m at; I don’t feel like anything was really given to me,” Hall said.
No matter how many trophies he may bring home, his focus remains on the field, with his teammates and with his coaches.
“I try not to focus on the outside stuff because I know it won’t help me on the field,” Hall said. “I’m not too big on everybody else. As long as my team’s winning and we’re having a good time, that’s all I really care about. It’s nice to see that other people are noticing that, but hopefully it puts our school on the map and our conference on the map.”
Hall’s competition for the Buck Buchanan Award were Sam Houston State’s defensive end Derick Roberson and Montana’s linebacker Dante Olson. Hall won by a large margin with 354 points, which included 28 first-place votes. Roberson finished second with a total of 241 and Olson was third with 225.
Hall and Southeast both return to the gridiron Aug. 29 to defend the War for the Wheel against Southern Illinois at Houck Stadium.
“I feel like we’re in a good spot as a program and we can only get better,” Hall said.
Hall’s competition for the award were Sam Houston State’s defensive end Derick Roberson and Montana’s linebacker Dante Olson. Roberson recorded 15 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss and forced five fumbles, tied for second most nationally. Olson averaged a nation-leading 13.7 tackles per game on his way to 151 tackles. t
Hall won by a large margin with 354 points, which included 28 first place votes. He was named second on 31 ballots, third on 19, fourth on 13 and fifth on seven. Roberson finished second with a total of 241 and Olson was third with 225.