March 13, 2010

By Troy Phillips
Special to

FORT WORTH, Texas-Until Saturday, the idea of starting a collegiate sports program and winning an NCAA title the same year had to be the longest of long shots.

Doing so as a team might never happen, but Columbus (Ga.) State junior Jonathan Hall is now proof that, yes, strange stuff happens.

A year ago, Hall was at home in Carrollton, Ga., figuring out his next move in obtaining a college degree. Today, he's a national champion after winning Saturday's air-rifle individual title at the NCAA Rifle Championships at Texas Christian University's Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

In the air rifle relay, or preliminary, Hall scored 595 points out of a possible 600 (60 shots, maximum 10 points each) and breezed into the eight-shooter final. The only male finalist - college rifle is a coed sport - Hall then cleaned up with his allotted 10 shots and scored a 104.9.

Each of 10 shots in the final is worth up to 10.9 points. Hall scored 10.2 or better on his first 9 attempts, three times ringing up a 10.8. He finished with a combined 699.9 in the relay and final.

Kentucky's Ashley Jackson finished second to Hall after being tied with TCU's Erin Lorenzen after the final. Both had an overall 697.4, but Jackson won a one-shot tiebreaker with a 9.3 to Lorenzen's 8.7.

After his victory, Hall seemed slightly dazed amid the excitement. After leaving college at Jacksonville State after his sophomore year, Hall worked on his shooting with friends at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., near Columbus State.

Michael Moore, a USAMU instructor, was contacted in 2008 about helping to start a rifle program at CSU. Moore knew Hall had remaining NCAA eligibility and had been released by JSU.

"I knew he was a free agent," said Moore, who handles CSU's technical coaching part-time while head coach Mike Green handles everything else. "I knew he wasn't going to a college, so I approached him and asked if he'd be interested if CSU started a team."

The 75-minute drive from Carrollton to Columbus was a route back to college (and college rifle) for Hall, who recently made the U.S. men's World Championship team that will compete in Germany, this summer.

"I knew those guys at Fort Benning, and [CSU] was borrowing the AMU range there," Hall said. "I left JSU because I really needed a change. I wanted to get back into school, but I liked the idea of us starting a new program."

As a team in its first season, CSU was up and down and couldn't get the necessary NCAA qualifying score to make the eight-team Championships at TCU this weekend. Hall, though, qualified as an individual in both smallbore and air rifle.

His relay score of 577 on Friday in smallbore didn't get him into that final, but Saturday's air rifle was as opposite a result as he could have envisioned.

"It's been long, hard hours getting ready for this," Moore said of Hall, who averaged a stellar 593 in air rifle this season, with a low score of 590. "Jon's been the leader of our team. He's everything a champion should be. He's so selfless and understands the team concept. He's always there to help his teammates."

CSU competes in NCAA Division II in every sport except rifle, so Hall's title might assume a place of high distinction in the school's athletic history. For a first season that began as "just an idea on paper," Hall figures his return to college turned out as well as expected.

Hall's victory could ensure that the AMU's junior rifle club at Fort Benning, which started a recruiting pipeline to CSU, gets it flowing even faster.

This weekend, Hall helped reverse a trend of struggles by men in the NCAA field. TCU's all-women's team won the overall NCAA and team air rifle titles, and TCU's Sarah Scherer won the smallbore individual title.

On Friday, Alaska-Fairbanks' all-male lineup won the smallbore team title but was sixth in air rifle and finished 22 points behind TCU in the overall standings for second place.

"I had to represent the men," Hall said, then point to the CSU logo on his golf shirt. "I had to represent them, too."