NATURALLY, EVERY COLLEGE THAT PUMPED up a football wanted him. He chose Texas A&M because, among other reasons, it was close. That, as it turned out, was the only good thing about A&M for Ken Hall.
"When he showed up in College Station," says Jack Pardee, the former NFL All-Pro and head coach who was an All-America fullback and linebacker at Texas A&M when Hall went there, "I looked at a guy that big [6' 1", 205 pounds], with that speed and those motor skills, and I figured I had just been demoted to second string. He was the prototype back." A classmate of Hall's was halfback John David Crow, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1957. "Lord knows I love Coach Bryant to death," Crow says, "but I'll say this, if Kenneth Hall had gone to play under someone like Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, the world would never have heard much about John David Crow." When asked the other day what went wrong with Hall, Bryant responded, "I don't think anything went wrong with him. It was me. I was stupid. You're a fool to think, as I did as a young coach, that you can treat them all alike. He should have been an All-America for me. With him, we'd have won the national championship in 1957. Without him, we lost it."
Pardee suggests that Hall's world-class failure at A&M was "because coach Bryant believed that you played defense first and then found a position in the offense. So Ken Hall had his skills reversed." Almost inexplicably, Bryant shuffled Hall, always a tailback, to fullback. Never mind that Hall had never been taught how to block. Bryant was irate when Hall couldn't block. Then Bryant made Hall a linebacker (they played both ways in those days), though he had always played defensive back in high school.
Hightower says, "When it all happened at A&M, I blamed Bear. Now I've changed my mind. It was just two personalities that didn't congeal. I think the both of them were just as much to blame."
Imogene isn't quite so charitable. "Kenneth isn't a quitter," she says. "But Bear Bryant just wasn't real nice to him. Here Kenneth was after four years of being treated great and suddenly he's being run down, shoved around and talked ugly to. It does something to a fellow."
When the A&M freshmen opened their season, Hall was at fullback and Crow and Loyd Taylor were at halfback. The first time Hall carried the ball as a collegian, he ran for a touchdown. By season's end, he was the Southwest Conference's leading freshman scorer with 30 points—five touchdowns in five games. He had gained 206 yards on 26 carries, an average of 7.9 yards per rush.
Though not happy with the role of fullback, Hall felt he had performed well in his first year. But the A&M coaches cared about only one thing: that Hall couldn't play linebacker worth a damn.
Midway through his sophomore year, Hall became disenchanted. "I worked hard," Hall says, "but I was sitting on the bench. After our seventh game I decided I couldn't stand the situation anymore and went home to Sugar Land and got married."
Fearing later that he had reacted too emotionally in quitting the team, Hall approached Bryant about returning for spring practice that year. The Bear accepted him back, and Hall immediately set about to challenge Pardee for the starting fullback job.
His junior season, however, was more of the same. Hall grew weary of the practice-session criticism he received and the spot duty he was dealt on game days, and again became discouraged.