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Forgotten Buckeyes: Maurice Hall did his best work in big moments

The ongoing series where we re-remember lesser known Buckeye heroes.

Mo Hall putting a nail in the Fighting Illini’s coffin
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Contrary to how it sometimes seems, not every difference-making football player at Ohio State will go on to have success in the NFL. In fact, it is a small group that even makes it onto a Week One roster.

However, just because a former player fades away from the spotlight, it does not mean that they deserve to be forgotten. Some of the most important moments and memories from the last 20 years can be attributed to the players whose careers ended with a bowl game.

This is a series acknowledging forgotten Buckeyes; an ode to the players without pictures and plaques hanging in The Horseshoe. These guys all played a pivotal role in historic Ohio State moments, and should be remembered for their special contributions to OSU football.

Maurice Hall | Running Back (2001-2005)

From the endzone to the red carpet: Mo Hall is a renaissance man
Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images for Film Independent

Ohio State’s 2002 National Championship team was loaded with talent, even if the program wasn’t quite the five-star factory that we have seen over the last decade from Urban Meyer and Ryan Day. Coach Jim Tressel and his staff focused their recruiting efforts primarily in Ohio and the midwest, then added national talent on a more limited basis; Chris Gamble and Michael Jenkins out of Florida were more exception than expectation.

Less heralded players and local recruits such as Craig Krenzel and A.J. Hawk were at the core of Tressel-built rosters. They developed and grew into eventual Buckeye heroes, and that 2002 team went on to win an improbable championship over Miami.

Running back in particular was a position of strength for the title team, and their change-of-pace back was a former Columbus prep superstar. In his senior year of high school, he accounted for over 3,000 scrimmage yards and 51 touchdowns! He was a four-star recruit and No. 15 ranked RB in the nation — just ahead of future NFL greats Steven Jackson and Frank Gore. His name was Maurice.

I am of course talking about Maurice… Hall. Mo Hall broke all sorts of records at Brookhaven High School in Columbus. He was a local legend; primed to flourish as a running back in what essentially was his own backyard. Unfortunately for him, he became part of a loaded position group, and only contributed on a rotational basis. Despite his sometimes nominal role, Hall came up big when it mattered most, and it could be argued that the Buckeyes never win that title in Tempe without him.

Hall was a sophomore on that 2002 team, and part of a three-headed monster at running back. Star freshman — and the more remembered Maurice, Maurice Clarett — led the rushing attack and became a national phenomenon. Clarett was spelled by both Hall and Lydell Ross.

Hall and Ross were part of the same 2001 recruiting class, and they would be linked for the duration of their OSU careers. Ross was actually ranked even higher coming out of high school, and would go on to start more games than his classmate. However, he never took the bull by the horns, and was similarly used as part of a running back rotation.

Hall was a solid, all-around back for Tressel and the Buckeyes. He more than adequately complimented other running backs and possessed sure hands as a kick returner. A participant in 47 career games, he will never be remembered for his gaudy stats; Hall rushed for less than 1,000 yards at OSU. He barely averaged four yards per carry and totaled just six touchdowns in his career.

From 3,000 scrimmage yards and 51 touchdowns as a high school senior, to 984 and 6, respectively; over four years. But stats aside, Hall’s contributions in 2002 will always be part of the historic championship story.

Ohio State jumped out to an 11-0 record that season, after narrowly escaping Purdue in West Lafayette. The team’s style of play did not lend itself to many blowout victories; “Tressel Ball” would affectionally (or frustratingly) be referenced as the Buckeyes often found themselves in close, ball control-focused games. While the results were hard to argue with, Tressel may have contributed to dozens of heart attacks in Ohio in 2002.

Coming off the “Holy Buckeye” game at Purdue, OSU was supposed to have a strong rebound performance against overmatched Illinois. Things did not go according to plan, however, and Ohio State found itself in a struggle over the Illibuck Trophy.

Clarett missed the game against the Illini, and without him first battering opponents, Hall and Ross were unable to find room in the running game. Due to the absence of a real running threat, Krenzel struggled to be his normally efficient self passing the ball.

Forced to play in overtime for the first time, the Buckeyes needed a spark. Enter: Mo Hall. He rushed eight yards up the gut against a tired Illinois defense and scored the final touchdown in OT, extending OSU’s perfect season.

Just one week later, against TTUN, Tressel and Co. were in yet another battle. Believe it or not, The Game used to be competitive, and the 2002 version was a defensive showcase for both teams. Clarett returned from injury and rushed for over 100 yards on the ground, however, both defenses were able to bend without breaking. Touchdowns were hard to come by. Michigan tallied three field goals and led Ohio State 9-7 late in the fourth quarter.

Just like the previous week, winning time became Maurice Hall time. Hall had four carries in the Michigan game. Those carries gained three yards. But nobody remembers those stats. Moments make heroes. With under five minutes to go, Hall spelled Clarett in the backfield. He took an option pitch and scored from two yards out – his second game-winning touchdown in as many weeks.

#OTD: No. 2 Ohio State Downs Michigan on Maurice Hall's Late TD

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Posted by Ohio State Buckeyes All Access on Monday, November 23, 2020

Hall did not account for many new memories after that Michigan game. He failed to even register a carry or catch in the BCS National Championship Game. He returned one kick, but was basically a healthy scratch. His 370 yards rushing and 43 receiving that season ended up being career highs in both categories. The following two years were uneventful in comparison — somewhat for the Buckeyes, and especially for Hall.

However, the subsequent years should not matter when we think about Hall’s legacy. Hall secured two important victories for a national championship-winning squad. He helped prolong an undefeated season that will be remembered forever by Ohio State fans. Perhaps even more importantly, he did all of it for his hometown team (yes, I know he was born in Miami — don’t ruin it). That makes for a hell of a story in my mind.

After his college career was over, Hall transitioned into leadership roles and acting. So, you could say he landed on his feet just fine. This man won a national championship and appeared on “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” NCIS: New Orleans,” “Queen Sugar,” “The Mindy Project,” and more! That is a pretty impressive resume.

Hall might not have had as many memorable moments as some other Ohio State running backs, but damn, did the ones he did have mean a whole hell of a lot. Hall should be regarded as more than just a run-of-the-mill backup running back. He was an unselfish player, great teammate, and performed his best in big moments. Not bad for a local kid.