Mark Hall blends in casually in the halls of Apple Valley High School. He’s popular, the result of his stature as a wrestler of uncommon ability, but he moves with humility, never approaching cockiness or arrogance.
To most of his classmates, Hall is just another student in a sea of many. It’s when Hall steps on the mat that he becomes the closest thing high school wrestling has to a rock star.
He is, as University of Iowa wrestling legend Brent Metcalf, a two-time NCAA champion says, “one dangerous dude.”
Hall’s journey featured a move from his native state of Michigan to Kentucky, which allows seventh-graders to wrestle at the high school level, and won a state championship. In search of better competition, he and his father moved to Apple Valley, attracted by the school’s reputation as a wrestling powerhouse. He repeated seventh grade, a consequence of frequent moves, and won Minnesota’s Class 3A 130-pound championship.
Thus began a Minnesota career that is expected to result in the most successful high school wrestling career in state history.
Hall is shooting for his fifth individual championship Saturday, joining five other wrestlers who have won five. No one has ever won six. Hall, a junior, could become the first next year.
“That’s one of my main goals,” Hall said. “I’d love to be the only person ever to win six.”
If there was a wrestling prototype, Hall would be it. Compact and strong, blessed with agility, speed and uncommon balance, he makes things look easy that other wrestlers struggle to achieve.
“He is built to be a wrestler,” former Eagles coach Jim Jackson said.
Passion was clear
Hall was born in Davison, Mich., a suburb of Flint, and lived there through sixth grade. The seeds of his wrestling future were sown there when he met Davison High School wrestlers Brent and Chase Metcalf, brothers bonded by a love for the sport. They immediately saw the same desire in young Mark and became mentors.
“Even at that time, he was unbelievably impressive with the things he was doing,” Brent Metcalf said. “Very early on, you could tell he had the passion for it and that’s what carries you.”
Combined with a passion for wrestling and a fervent dedication to improvement, Hall has reached a level of success few achieve. He won the FILA Cadet 167½-pound world championship. He is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 170 pounds by all four of the major wrestling websites. In fact, he’s roundly considered the best pound-for-pound high school wrestler in the nation, an assertion he confirmed with a victory last October in the “Who’s No. 1” national tournament in Pennsylvania.
“It was nice to win that,” said Hall, who dominated Anthony Valencia of St. John Bosco (Calif.), the previous top-ranked wrestler, 10-2.
Wherever Hall goes, his wrest-ling reputation precedes him. He has nearly 4,800 Twitter followers. Fans and admirers turn to look when he enters an arena. A mid-February recruiting trip to Iowa — college wrestling’s most storied program — resulted in giddy social media banter among the Hawkeye faithful.
“That says a lot about the way he wrestles and the way he trains,” Metcalf said.
Said Hall: “I notice that and it’s nice to be noticed, but I can’t get caught up in that. I have to stay focused on my goals.”
He has plenty of non-wrestling friends at Apple Valley, but he’s careful to steer clear of potentially damaging situations.
“I can’t afford to lose what I’ve worked so hard for,” he said. “There is temptations, with parties and things like that, but I usually just stay away. Most of my friends understand.”
Recruiters lining up
For all of his natural ability, Hall’s focus has elevated him to elite status.
“He’s got pride in what he does,” Apple Valley coach Dalen Wasmund said. “He wants to be the best, and he’ll do anything it takes to get there. It’s his willingness to work that separates him. He’s always focused, always in a good frame of mind.”
Hall shows little outward emotion, his poker-face expression giving away nothing except determination. Inside, he is driven by failure. To Hall, every loss is fresh, no matter how long ago. It was a loss to Valencia in a tournament in Las Vegas last spring that was the springboard to his victory in October. He is still bothered by his last high school loss, a double-overtime loss to Brian Murphy of Glenbard (Ill.) North in his freshman year.
“I think he clasped,” Hall said. “I think I should have gotten the point. But reviewing the video, there are several places where I could have gotten into my offense, so I’m not making any excuses.”
Not surprisingly, Hall is the target of a growing recruiting battle among the top college wrestling programs in the country. He has said that he won’t make a college decision until next fall. Minnesota is on his short list of college choices, but there is no denying his affinity for Iowa and his connection to Metcalf.
“I love the atmosphere there,” Hall said. “They really care about wrestling.”
Until then, there’s the matter of his high school legacy. There was speculation that he might eschew his senior season and head to Colorado to train in the U.S. National Development program, but he’s nixed that idea. “No, I’m staying here. That ship has sailed.” he said.
The goal for his time left in high school is simple. Lofty, but simple.
“I want to be the face of Apple Valley wrestling,” he said. “When people talk about Apple Valley, I want them to think of me.”