THE PATIENCE AND POWER OF J.T. WALL
This Bulldog fullback proves that despite the odds, it pays to dream the biggest dream
By Kim Goss
Published: Spring 2002
J. T. Wall didn’t seem likely to become a starter on a Division I football team, especially one with the reputation of the University of Georgia. He graduated from a small, private high school and didn’t have the speed, size or playing experience to attract the attention of the major colleges. But Wall’s dream was to play for the Georgia Bulldogs, and he had the passion, work ethic and patience to fulfill that dream.
“I played football at a small school we had roughly 30 people in my graduating class - and the University of Georgia didn’t show much interest in me,” says Wall. “So I just went to a Division II school for two years, where I became a starter, then contacted Georgia about the possibility of becoming a walk-on so I could prove myself. Although they said they would always welcome a walk-on, I didn’t feel that they had much interest, but I wasn’t going to second-guess myself later on in life by not trying to make the team.”
Wall graduated from John Milledge Academy in Milledgeville, Georgia, where he played fullback and linebacker. In his last two years he was named player of the year on the All-Sinclair/Oconee Area Football Team. During his senior year the 215-pound Southerner rushed for 29 touchdowns and 2,143 yards, which broke down into 7.24 yards per carry and 164.8 yards per game. On the other side of the ball he made 180 tackles, of which 18 were behind the line of scrimmage, and recovered four fumbles.
Despite Wall’s impressive numbers and awards, Georgia wasn’t ready to offer him a scholarship. Bruce Lane, who was Wall’s coach for his sophomore to senior years, explains, “J. T. played in an independent school association. Although his high school performance showed the recruiters he was talented, they were not sure how he would match up to athletes who had played in the public schools. I also think that a lot of recruiters have norms for football
players - they want them all to run 4.5 in the 40 and weigh 240 pounds - but the one thing they couldn’t measure on J. T. was the size of his heart.”
Leadership was another factor that J. T. demonstrated in high school. “J. T. was able to raise the level of play around him,” says Lane. “I’ve just completed my 18th year as a football coach, 13 as a head football coach, and I don’t think I’ve ever coached a player like J. T. - it was almost like he could will things to happen. Also, J. T. was a very humble football player and always gave credit to his teammates.”
After graduating from high school, Wall attended Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, where he focused on the fullback position. He became a starter from day one, and gained 465 yards on 129 carries in his freshman year, and 450 yards on 118 attempts in his sophomore year. Wall says he owes much of his early success to the conditioning he gained from using the BFS program.
“Coach Lane started me off on Bigger Faster Stronger and Southwest Baptist used versions of the program,” says Wall. “I felt Bigger Faster Stronger gave me an advantage coming into the University of Georgia.” Adds Lane, “The schools I’ve been associated with have been very small, and the athletes generally play more than one sport. I like the fact that BFS puts all the kids on the same page. BFS specializes for each sport through the auxiliary lifts, but by using the same core lifts we don’t have to worry about doing one workout for football, one for basketball, and one for baseball.”
Despite his success at Southwest Baptist, Wall didn’t give up on his dream to play at the University of Georgia. “I don’t know what attracted me specifically to Georgia,” says Wall, “but ever since I was little, from day one I’ve wanted to be a Bulldog.” Consequently, the following year he transferred to Georgia, trying to make the team as a walk-on. “I was aware of how hard it would be, but I remembered what my dad always told me, ‘Do what’s going to make you happy, and always follow your dreams.’”
A Dream Come True
Due to NCAA-mandated rules regarding football players who transfer, Wall had to sit out his first year at Georgia, using that as his redshirt year. “It was somewhat frustrating and disheartening not to be able to play, but I tried to concentrate more on the physical aspects of the game as far as working out and getting in better shape.” As for specific goals, one was to improve his bench press. “I always had a goal to bench 400 before I left high school and I achieved that,” says Wall. “One of my goals at Georgia was to bench 500, and I reached that this summer.” In addition to improving his bench, Wall power cleaned 330 pounds, full squatted 510, performed 50 dips, reached a 30-inch vertical jump, and completed 90 skips in 30 seconds on the jump rope. Such commitment didn’t go unnoticed.
“J. T. is a very strong young man, but what you notice is what a hard worker he is,” says head strength coach Dave Van Halanger. “We have a core group of football players who are tremendously strong, and J. T. always lifts with the strongest guys. Anytime they’re up on their last set, because it is so heavy, the younger players will stop and watch a little bit. J. T. gives everything he has in the weightroom, and that type of leadership is special.”
By the time the 2001 football season finally arrived, Wall’s hard work had earned him a place on the team and a scholarship. “It was a lifelong dream come true to play at Georgia, to be a part of the team and its traditions,” says Wall. “It was also a great feeling to get the scholarship and lift that financial burden off my parents.”
When he first took the field at Sanford Stadium in a game, Wall says it was an emotional experience. “I wasn’t nervous, but I had to hold back the tears. It’s an awesome feeling, and it keeps coming back every time I step onto that field.” On his first carry for Georgia, against Arkansas State, Wall ran for 15 yards. “I went crazy; it all seemed to fit into the right place.” What’s more, by the end of the season he had earned a place as a starter.
When asked what differences there are between Division II and Division I football, Wall replied, “Number one, the crowd - there’s usually around 80,000 fans here every home game, and at Southwest Baptist we were lucky to see maybe 2,000. The fans back the University a hundred percent - we have the best fans in the nation. Also, you have to put a lot more time and effort playing at Division I. There are more practices, tougher practices and you have to fight for your job every day.” But Wall is up to the challenge.
“J. T. is as tough as anyone I’ve ever coached, and his attitude is phenomenal,” says Van Halanger, who has trained 47 athletes who went on to the NFL and believes Wall has the mindset and physical talent to reach that level. “J. T. set strong goals for himself. One of those goals was to bench 500 pounds, and he achieved that; he wanted to get a scholarship at the University of Georgia, and he earned it; he wanted to start, and he started. J. T. does a heck of a job, and we’re very proud of him.”
Whereas Wall was a frequent ball carrier in high school and at Southwest Baptist, at Georgia his most valuable asset is his ability to block. “J. T. is used more as a blocking back,” says Van Halanger. “He’s going to block for our tailbacks, and at 253 pounds that’s what J. T. does so well - to be able to put his body on a linebacker and knock him back. For example, J. T. was really instrumental in the games where Verron Haynes gained 197 yards against Mississippi and 200-plus yards against Georgia Tech, our biggest rival, because J. T. continued to open those holes.” Wall agrees, “That’s pretty much my role here, to open up the holes for our tailbacks. But when I get a carry here and there, I try to take advantage of it by making them miss or running over them.”
Concerning Wall’s goals for next season, Van Halanger says, “I know he really wants to get his 40 bet