ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia's most unlikely projected starter in Saturday's season opener against Buffalo is often the player who is the most annoying to his teammates.
Redshirt freshman fullback Merritt Hall was working on the scout team this time last year, but the 5-foot-11, 234-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta ascended to a first-team role this spring. He has maintained that position throughout the preseason, and his fellow Bulldogs have tired of the collisions.
"He's just the perfect height where you can't get underneath him when he's running full speed," senior inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. "So imagine not being ready to get hit, and somebody gets you under your chin. We're always like, 'Slow down a little bit.' In the past we've had big fullbacks that nobody wanted to go up against, but he's not that big."
Hall was a Class A all-state selection at the Wesleyan School during the 2010 season, but he did not receive any scholarship offers from Division I programs. His cousin, Chad Hall, is a 5-8 receiver out of the Air Force Academy who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, so it's evident there is an overachiever element that runs in the family.
"I'm not the fastest or the strongest or the biggest guy on the field, so there has to be somewhere I can make up for that," Hall said. "Sticking my head in there and bringing it every play in whatever drill we're doing is something that benefits how I play the game. When you're playing fullback, you need to have the mentality that you're not going to back down from anybody."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo noticed how physical Hall could be last season and how he had good pad level and wasn't afraid to strike. Head coach Mark Richt recently admitted, "I didn't know who he was until this spring, but he got my attention pretty quick."
Hall began working with the first team late in spring practice and was atop the depth chart released in July. He was awarded a scholarship earlier this month.
"We're always looking for someone to go in there and be a glorified guard and block, and he's been willing to do it," Bobo said.
A fullback started nine of 14 games last season for the Bulldogs, and there were only two rushes by the fullback all year. Hall is hoping to be on the field when Georgia takes its first snap of the season, but he knows it depends on how many receivers Bobo chooses to open with.
"It would be a big deal," Hall said. "It's something I've always wanted to do, start for a Division I program, and I'm finally blessed with the opportunity to do that."
Said Bobo: "I consider them all starters if they start in a personnel group. I guess that is important to them, but I just want to get some yards on that first play."
Hall's teammates are just ready for him to bother somebody else.
"All the defensive ends hate him because he's always coming full speed," left tackle Kenarious Gates said with a smile. "He doesn't know when to stop."
Odds and ends
Richt said Wednesday that sophomore Malcolm Mitchell will play cornerback and receiver Saturday and could return a punt and a kickoff, too. ... Reserve sophomore guard Hunter Long (left foot fracture) is the only scholarship player that has been ruled out because of injury. ... The Bulldogs practiced for 90 minutes Wednesday in helmets and shorts.