Standout High School Rusher Was Initially Scared to Run
As funny as it seems, the greatest running back in high school football history began his career scared to run. All Kenneth Hall wanted to do was throw and kick.
Things changed quickly in the sixth game of the 1950 season, Hall’s freshman year at Sugar Land, when he dropped back to pass, saw no one to throw to, and realized he had no choice.
“I had to run with it,” he said recently. “It was the first time I had really actually run with the football.
“And I scored. I went about 75 yards.”
Four games later and still just getting the hang of running, Hall again found himself stuck in the pocket with nowhere to throw in the final minute of the season finale.
“I went 96 yards for a touchdown,” he said. “That’s when it became fun.”
Hall had a lot of fun the next three seasons as he kept running and scoring, setting eight national records that have endured 41 seasons with little challenge. Overall, he set 17 records from 1950-53.
His career rushing record of 11,232 yards likely won’t be broken. Same with his total offense mark of 14,588 yards. Both are more than a great-season total ahead of second place.
To put those numbers into perspective, consider they break down to 249.6 yards rushing and 324.2 total yards per game over his 45-game career. The numbers grow even more when throwing out those unproductive first five games.
Probably the most amazing of Hall’s records are his single-season rushing totals of 4,045 yards, 3,458 and 3,160. They rank first, fifth and eighth highest of all-time and could be even larger had he not scored so often and put so many games out of reach.
“The thing people don’t realize, is that I hardly ever played much in the second half,” said Hall, who led Sugar Land to a 34-1-1 record and three regional titles his last three seasons.
Although the records didn’t continue, Hall did go on to play in college at Texas A&M; and in the pros with the Baltimore Colts, Houston Oilers and Chicago and St. Louis Cardinals. He also spent a season in the Canadian Football League.
His career at A&M; was cut short by a personality clash with a then-young coach Paul (Bear) Bryant that cost Hall playing time. Hall left school twice and was determined to show up Bryant by making it big in the pros.
Hall didn’t--mostly because of a back injury--but Bryant did come around. Long after forging his reputation, Bryant called his handling of Hall the biggest mistake of his career. He even wrote Hall a letter saying so.
That letter is back home with Hall’s mom in Sugar Land. A few other relics are in Waco at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, which Hall was inducted into earlier this year. He’s been a member of the National High School Sports Hall of Fame since 1983.
Visitors to “Ken Hall’s Texas Barbecue” wouldn’t know any of that by the looks of the place. Three wooden frames quietly display some old pictures and letters, barely hinting at Hall’s past as the “Sugar Land Express.”
“That’s another era, another life,” Hall said. “Still, every once in a while people will come in here and want autographs.
“Sure, there are people who still want to hear about it and talk about it. But I’d rather go on and do something else,” said Hall, a budding painter and would-be golfer on the Senior PGA Tour.
Once prodded, though, the stories come easy.
Of his many recollections, the one about how his success began is one of Hall’s most vivid “because people have asked me a jillion times and I’ve had to go back and ask people, ‘How’d all this happen?”’
It may not have begun had Sugar Land been at least competitive in its first five games.
But the blowout losses prompted the school’s new superintendent, himself a former coach at Pearsall High, to suggest that Sugar Land’s coaches scrap the T-formation they were using in favor of a scheme he had run at Pearsall.
The new offense was called the “Notre Dame Box,” a variation of the single-wing used by Fighting Irish coach Frank Leahy. It featured no true quarterback--just six linemen, an end, two halfbacks and two fullbacks.
“It was awesome,” Hall said. “It was power. No finesse whatsoever.”
Hall didn’t need much finesse. At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, he was bigger than all his blockers and most defenders. With 9.7 speed in the 100, he was faster than nearly all of them, too.
An example of his dominance was the time Hall opened a game with an 80-yard touchdown run, only to have it called back because of a penalty. No problem. The next snap, he ran for an 85-yard touchdown.
Something seemed wrong as the officials huddled near the end zone. Hall’s coach inquired what the problem was and, exhaustedly, they admitted they were just trying to catch their breath.
That touchdown was one of 127 in Hall’s career and six of his 899 career points. Both rank among the all-time best.
Hall’s greatest game probably was Oct. 9, 1953, when he ran only 11 times for 520 yards and scored 49 points against “a fairly small” team from Houston Lutheran.
“I don’t think I hardly played in the second half,” he said.
Eventually, word of Hall’s feats spread 20 miles northeast to Houston, then across the state and eventually led to a first of its kind phenomenon for a high school athlete.
“A wire service article went across the world,” Hall said. “I got about 50,000 letters. It was mind-boggling.”
The fan mail ranged from general well-wishers to those trying to woo Hall to their colleges.
“Someone totaled up one time that I was offered about 250 scholarships,” he said. “The Green Bay Packers even sent a questionnaire.”
Now 59 with gray beginning to lighten his wavy black hair, Hall is only 20 pounds over his playing weight.
For the last eight years, he’s fulfilled a longtime dream by running his restaurant in this central Texas town of 7,000. He once marketed his barbecue sauce in 16 states, but now it can only be bought behind the counter.
Besides the business and the painting and golfing aspirations, Hall also keeps busy with three grandchildren and his 39-year marriage to his high school sweetheart, Gloria.
Plus, there’s still that shred of fame that draws people off the highway to meet him.
“I can’t complain about anything,” he said. “I really can’t. It’s been good. People still want to talk about it. They still know who I am and that’s pretty nice.”
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Sugar Land Express Records
Where Kenneth Hall ranks on some national charts, according to the 1994 National High School Sports Record Book published by the National Federation of State High School Associations:
Most yards rushing, career
11,232--Ken Hall (Sugar Land, Texas) 1950-53
9,193--Brad Hocker (Archie, Mo.) 1988-91
8,804--Emmitt Smith (Pensacola Escambia, Fla.) 1983-86
Most yards rushing, season
4,045--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1953
3,701--Rodney Thomas (Groveton, Texas) 1990
3,523--David Dotson (Moreno Valley Valley View) 1991
3,515--Robert Strait (Cuero, Texas) 1987
3,458--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1952
3,383--Steve Tate (Luther, Okla.) 1975
3,167--Herschel Walker (Wrightsville Johnson County, Ga.) 1979
3,160--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1951
Most yards rushing, game
608--John Bunch (Elkins, Ark.) vs. Winslow, Ariz., 10/5/4
599--Rudy Rudison (Houston, Texas, Marian Christian) vs. Houston Memorial Hall, Sept. 29, 1978
529--Bob Ferguson (Troy, Ohio) vs. Dayton, Ohio, Kiser, Sept. 14, 1956
527--Francis Tallent (Menominee, Mich.) vs. Kingsford, Mich., 1929
520--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) vs. Houston Lutheran, Oct. 9, 1953
Most yards total offense, career
14,588--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1950-53; 11,232 rush, 3,326 pass
11,451--Ron Cuccia (Los Angeles Wilson) 1975-77; 2,647 rush, 8,804 pass
11,135--Scott Frost (Wood River, Neb.) 1989-92; 4,276 rush, 6,859 pass
Most points, career
952--Brett Law (Sheridan, Ind.) 1986-89
899--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1950-53
884--Brad Hocker (Archie, Mo.) 1988-91
Most points, season
453--Brett Law (Sheridan, Ind.) 1988
395--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1953
382--Aaron Johnson (Villa Grove, Ill.) 1992
Most points, per game average-season
32.9--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1953
32.4--Brett Law (Sheridan, Ind.) 1988
31.9--Harold (Red) Grange (Wheaton, Ill.) 1920
Most touchdowns, career
141--Brett Law (Sheridan, Ind.) 1986-89
132--Hubert Bobo (Chauncey-Chauncey Dover, Ohio) 1953-56
129--Brad Hocker (Archie, Mo.) 1988-91
127--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1950-53
127--Robert Strait (Cuero, Texas) 1985-88
Most touchdowns, season
66--Brett Law (Sheridan, Ind.) 1988
57--Ken Hall (Sugar Land) 1953
56--Willie Mack Garza (Refugio, Texas) 1987