South Carolina football walk-on works as Statehouse page too

·4 min read

COLUMBIA S.C. (AP) — Main Street. Stand at the right place and it’s a view of the South Carolina Statehouse to one side and Williams-Brice Stadium to the other.

Jackson Hall has been working each end this summer. As a walk-on freshman offensive lineman, he’s at South Carolina’s football facilities nearly every day. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he’s at South Carolina’s legislative headquarters doing anything and everything.

“I’m a page, well, that’s one of my positions. I help out with whoever needs to be helped,” said Hall, a Honea Path native who enrolled for USC’s spring semester and joined the football team. “I’m in Senator (Luke) Rankin’s office, and I put up flyers, deliver papers, answer the phone. Anybody comes in and asks me to do something, I do it.”

College is enough of an adjustment for any freshman, but Hall graduated from Belton-Honea Path High in December at age 17, came to college early so he could get into football training and went through spring practice. Not many know what they want to do when they first get to college; throw in being an athlete where not many want to think about the day when the ball stops bouncing, and it’s quite a lot to get used to.

Hall said he isn’t quite sure what he wants to do when he graduates, but he’s majoring in criminology and wants to be involved in law somehow — judge, politician, something like that. It’s part of a long-range plan.

“Each year I want to try to explore something new to see what I really like,” he said. “It’s been a change from my usual summers. I hauled straw in high school.”

Now he’s at the football facility by 9 a.m. every day, most days very much earlier. He completes his daily offseason checklist then heads downtown for his internship, exchanging his T-shirt and workout shorts for a suit and tie when the lawmakers are in session.

There, it’s being a multi-use tool and helping the administrative assistants, senators, representatives and anybody else who asks with their needs. He isn’t consulting on specific agendas — yet — but he’s heard enough to know the basics of how to eventually be heard.

“We were in session the other day, and I happened to walk in with the governor,” Hall said. “I talked to him a little bit, introduced myself. Then I got to sit there and watch them do their thing.”

The position is part of the University of South Carolina’s Beyond Sports initiative, a program that works to prepare student-athletes for life off the field. Seventeen Gamecocks from the school’s various teams are working this summer in a variety of positions.

“It’s an eight-week program that was started because our student-athletes aren’t available to do normal internships during the year, due to their sport. The training, travel, participation, they don’t have a lot of the time that other students have,” said Michael Stovall, the assistant athletics director in charge of student-athlete development and brand awareness.

“They get that mock interview, online and an in-person interview, before they ever start looking for a job. They learn how to make a resume. They learn about workplace etiquette, how to get to work, how to dress, how to sit at their desk to complete an assignment. It’s the actual things they need to be competitive.”

Hall had an in because his father’s friend is state Sen. Mike Gambrell. Yet it wasn’t as simple as saying, “My dad knows a Senator and I’d like to take advantage of it.”

“They knew the senator and were able to make a phone call, but that only got the interview. He still had to interview,” Stovall said. “It’s not that they’re saving their position for us. The No. 1 thing is he came and said he wanted to be part of the program. So we take their major and their interest — for him, it’s politics and law — ask them about their network and how do we get there?”

Athletes have to apply for the program and then for their desired position, and the university meets with the prospective employer and assesses meaningful work experience. It’s not course credit, per se, although it can be; it’s always practical experience for when they have to do this after school.

“Branding” has become a hot topic among college athletics due to Name, Image and Likeness legislation, with athletes able to earn money off their personal image and social-media presence. Beyond Sports helps to develop those personal and professional brands, teaching them how to network, which as Stovall says, “Network determines net worth.”

Hall is learning about filibusters and canvassing while also memorizing blocking assignments and snap cadences. A 6-foot-3 lineman closing in on 300 pounds cuts a distinctive figure on the gridiron, and with scraped and bruised hands at his sides flanking his suit on the Statehouse floor, nobody’s going to forget him anytime soon.

David Cloninger, The Post And Courier, The Associated Press

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