Hall eagerly makes his return to football to lead Missouri after injury, father’s death

After missing four games, Hall led Missouri in receiving yards to get the Tigers back to their winning ways in an upset of No. 13 Florida.
Missouri wideout Emanuel Hall (center) high fives teammate Jalen Knox after scoring a touchdown early in the third quarter of Missouri's 38-17 win over No. 13 Florida on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There was nothing to say except “I love you,” so that’s what Emanuel Hall told his mom when he found her in stands for a post-game hug.

Hall’s mom, Shannon Simmons, didn’t have to make the trip to this game. She didn’t know if her son would even be playing, because he didn’t know if he would be playing. The senior receiver was as close to a game-time decision as it gets before Missouri took on Florida Saturday night. He had missed the last four games with a groin injury that still causes him pain while running. While recovering, his father suddenly died.

“This has been the toughest year of my life,” Hall said.

Saturday was a step in the right direction, because it constituted getting back to what he loves. Hall totaled a team-leading 77 yards on four catches, including one for a touchdown in his return as Missouri defeated No. 13 Florida, 38-17.

The Tigers’ offense, which hadn’t recorded a first down in the second half a week ago against Kentucky, thrived with its X-factor back. Football was finally Hall’s outlet again after weeks of tragedy followed by both emotional and physical recovery.

“There’s a plan for everything,” he said. “I think tonight was part of the plan.”

But Hall said he never expected anything like what he’s been through this season. His senior season got off to a smooth start as his connection with quarterback Drew Lock spurred the Tigers to two wins, but a groin issue first came up at Purdue. Still, Hall re-entered with his injury to make a crucial catch on the game-winning drive of that contest. He rarely played the next week against Georgia and didn’t make a catch, then became unable to play at all for four straight games.

After his father, Daton Hall, died Oct. 11 ahead of Missouri’s game at Alabama, Hall went home to Nashville for the funeral. There, he learned the true nature – particularly the strength – of his mother. Looking back on her presence in his career after Saturday night’s win, Hall realized she has traveled to every game, home and away, that he’s ever played in for MU.

That’s something he won’t take for granted anymore.

“I love her to death,” Hall said. “She's been through it just like me. She's really strong. She makes me who I am. She's a blessing to have in my life.”

Her words to him were “health first” heading into the Tigers’ game at Florida. But the lingering potential for Hall to return was too strong. And mom insisted on making the game regardless of whether he played; the streak couldn’t end this close to the end.

Health, she said?

“I can’t help it,” Hall told his mom. “I love playing.”

Hall knew he would be OK for the rest of the game after he was targeted on his patented go-route on Lock’s first throw of the game. It was incomplete, but it tested Hall’s downfield speed enough for him to know that he could play through what small amount of pain was left.

“The threat he is, his linear speed is huge,” coach Barry Odom said.

Soon, Hall made his first catch for a crucial third-down conversion to set up Missouri’s first touchdown.

“Every time we get a chance to go out there with [Hall] on the field, I think we’re a better team,” senior offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton said.

Lock called Hall his “blankie” after the game, a safe source for all passes. The blankie’s impact on the offense seemed indescribable, players said, as Missouri nearly tripled last week’s score while playing against an acclaimed pass defense. Though Hall only made four catches, they were all for important yardage. Things came full circle when one of the receptions was a slant for a touchdown.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Hall said. “It’s crazy. To come out here and score, it’s awesome. I love this game more than anything. To be able to play, to be able to perform, after all that other stuff that's been going on, that's been awesome.”

Hall said his teammates have been supportive in the aftermath of the family tragedy, but he wanted space to cope with his loss after it happened. So he took on a new connection with someone else.

“I got a lot closer to God throughout the process,” Hall said. “He really impacted my life in a big way. God’s played the biggest role recently than ever.”

Hall has had a divine sort of impact on Missouri this season. The Tigers are 4-0 in games when Hall makes a catch. They are 1-4 in games in which he doesn’t.

So while late heartbreaks plagued the offense during the weeks Hall was recovering, he discarded speculation that he should redshirt and preserve one more year of college football at MU. An injured Hall spent the Missouri-Kentucky game smooth-talking Kelly Bryant as the former Clemson quarterback prepares to decide where to play as a graduate transfer. The prospect of the two playing together amped up the calls to redshirt Hall.

“Redshirting was never an option,” he said after making his return. “I’m definitely gonna play this then go on.”

“Go on” presumably means to the NFL, assuming he has the stock to get drafted and make a team, but as bright as the future looks for Hall, the road to recovery is what stands out to him. Asked to sum up the experience, Hall made the same unrelenting eye contact, spoke with the same matter-of-fact sincerity as he did weeks before his senior season was derailed.

“At the end of the day, it’s out of our control,” Hall said. “If you have faith, things are gonna go your way. It’s been life changing, the past few months, but life-changing in a positive way.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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