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October 27, 2011

Batten: Wall's Career Fondly Remembered

The 20-year anniversary of an improbable run to North Carolina's Class 4-A football championship is being celebrated in the town of Hope Mills on Friday.

A South View High School squad that lost twice and only made the playoffs thanks to another team being upset on the final night of the regular season reeled off four straight wins to earn a shot at West Charlotte in the 4-A finals. West Charlotte was unbeaten and rated the nation's No. 12 high school squad by USA Today.

But despite being a huge underdog, the Tigers kicked their only field goal of the entire season to claim a 10-7 triumph.

So what does this all have to do with North Carolina?

Well, South View won the state crown at UNC's Kenan Memorial Stadium. The game also marked the first Kenan Stadium appearance for one Marcus Wall, who would spend the next four seasons helping Coach Mack Brown produce winning records for the Tar Heel football program.

Wall earned the nickname, "Super Gnat,'' while playing receiver for the Tar Heels from 1992 to 1995 because of his tenacious style.

He still graces the pages of UNC's school record books, ranking second to Hakeem Nicks in single-season touchdown receptions (9 in 1994) and No. 4 in career kickoff returns (2,120 yards, 24.4 average and 2 TDs).

But back in 1991, Wall was record-setting tailback at South View for Coach Bobby Poss. Poss had already coached Cumberland County-rival Seventy-First to a pair of state championships in 1984 and 1986 when he took over a South View program during Wall's sophomore season that had been among the state's worst.

Wall, in fact, was all set to transfer to another local school, Douglas Byrd, before meeting Poss.

"He opened up my mind to his vision and it turned out great for both of us,'' Wall said earlier this week. "Coach Poss was always positive, up beat and a straight shooter from the moment he got there.''

Wall started at tailback as a sophomore, but really came into his own as a junior when he piled up 1,404 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. The performance by Wall and the South View team had the Tigers pointing toward a state title run in 1991.

"I remember the summer before my senior year our team went to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp in Black Mountain,'' Wall said. "We took a picture up there where we all were pointing at our ring fingers, indicating we planned on getting that state championship, and we got it.''

The Tigers rode Wall all the way to the championship.

He ran the ball 334 times that season for 2,501 yards and 27 touchdowns. He toted the rock 27 times in the state title game for 178 yards to earn most valuable player honors.

Wall had not decided on a college at that point, but has already been offered by UNC for both football and track.

He credits former Tar Heel track assistant coach Charles Foster and football assistant Terry Lewis with convincing him to sign with UNC.

"Coach Foster told me to treat recruiting as a business because people are seeking your services,'' Wall said. "Terry Lewis was just phenomenal. He wasn't like a lot of coaches who were calling every day to the point of harassment.

"Then I went up for my official visit and it was during a time when all the students were away from campus. The only people around were the players. I just really bonded with them because they reminded me of my team at home. Even to this day our bond is unique.''

Wall still keeps in touch with many of his UNC teammates like Natrone Means, Octavius Barnes and many others.

The Tar Heels went 34-15 during Wall's four seasons in Chapel Hill. He was one of two true freshmen, along with defensive lineman Marcus Jones, who saw action in 1992 as UNC produced a 9-3 mark.

But it was a sophomore in the season opener the following season that Wall made a play that is still one of the most memorable in school history.

The Tar Heels had been selected to face traditional power Southern Cal in the season-opening Pigskin Classic in Anaheim, Calif. Wall, a 5-foot-10, 165-pounder, had a breakout game with 69 all-purpose yards, including 30 on four rushes and 20 on a kickoff return. He also scored his first career touchdown that day on an option pitch rush from the 6-yard line.

The play Wall is still asked about today, however, occurred earlier during the first quarter of the game. After make a catch, Wall headed up the left sideline where he was met by USC defensive back Mike Salmon.

Salmon, the brother of then major league outfielder Tim Salmon, attempted to tackle Wall. But instead of running out of bounds, Wall lowered his shoulder and buried Salmon in a collision so powerful that Salmon had to leave the game with an injury.

"Still, to this day, I have people come up to me and talk about that,'' Wall said. "I just think I caught him with the right leverage. Whenever I hit him, he went back two or three steps. I was dizzy myself. I remember 'Mad Dog' (strength coach Jeff Madden) grabbing me and telling me, 'Good job.' He could tell I was shaken and said, 'You straight?' I said, 'Yep.' So, I finished (the game), he (Salmon) didn't.''

Wall has been active in football since graduating from UNC. He's coached at the high school and arena levels, and is a featured instructor for the Prep Star football camps. Wall is also owner of Wall-2-Wall Home Improvements, a company he runs in Fayetteville.

Wall has also closely watched the situation with North Carolina's football program over the past year. He strongly supports interim head coach Everett Withers for the full-time position.

"I like him,'' Wall said. "I think it would be great for him to get it.

"I think we'll be OK. I guess everybody has to learn from this situation. We put ourselves in this predicament and now we have to work our way out. I just hope we don't have to go all the way back down to the bottom again when this is all said and done.''







 

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