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Journey from Mississippi has been eventful, rewarding for UNT CB Kemon Hall

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

A smile spread across Kemon Hall's face this week when he was asked about arguably his biggest moment in college football up until a few days ago — at least in terms of exposure.

"I was on Last Chance U twice," Hall said. "It was my second year being on there."

Hall was only on for a few seconds in the last season of the series while playing for Itawamba Community College, one of a handful of two-year schools in Mississippi that double as college football talent factories.

Hall
Hall

Several of the players from those schools hit it big on the major-college level, including those who played at East Mississippi, the team the series was based on last season. Others flame out quickly. 

Hall appears to be well on his way to being among those who make it after his performance in UNT's first two games this fall. The Mississippi native picked up the first interception of his UNT career last week in a loss to SMU and is expected to make his third straight start Saturday when the Mean Green visit Iowa.

"Kemon has prepared and competed very well," UNT coach Seth Littrell said. "He picked up the system relatively quickly and has made competitive plays. He still has to grow and get better."

Hall has come a long way already since graduating from Calhoun City (Miss.). He didn't have a single scholarship offer after his senior year and wound up playing his freshman season at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Mississippi, before transferring to Itawamba.

Hall had 16 scholarship offers at one point but didn't graduate from Itawamba until after the spring semester of the 2016-17 school year.

Most of the programs that were looking for a cornerback at that point had moved on. Fortunately for Hall, UNT was still in the market for a defensive back and had a connection to Mississippi junior colleges in the form of linebackers coach Jeff Koonz.

Koonz's father, Jeff Koonz Sr., is the head coach at Holmes, another Mississippi junior college. UNT added Hall as a blueshirt recruit. 

UNT has used the blueshirt concept throughout Littrell's time at the school. Blueshirts join a team as a walk-on and are put on scholarship once fall practice begins. Those scholarships can be postdated to the following class.

That is the plan UNT followed with Hall, whose scholarship will come out of its allotment of 25 for 2018.

The decision appears as if it is paying off for Hall as well as UNT.

"I ended up in the right place," Hall said. "It feels like home. The players and coaches make it feel that way."

Hall fit in immediately at UNT and struck up a friendship with Nate Brooks, one of the Mean Green's top defensive backs. Brooks is in his third year as a starting cornerback for UNT and was a preseason All-Conference USA selection.

"I worked with Nate a lot in the summer after practice," Hall said. "I was confident that I could make an impact. The work paid off. The junior college experience helped a lot. I played against some good players."

Hall has played against more elite players since arriving at UNT, starting at practice when he was often matched up with veteran receiver Turner Smiley.

"I go against Kemon every day," Smiley said. "He has good technique, works hard and practices hard. That translates. He's got good feet and hips and is a smart cornerback."

UNT quarterback Mason Fine described Hall as a quiet but confident player. That confidence has made an impression on safety Kishawn McClain, one of UNT's veteran leaders.

"Kemon has great feet and is fearless," McClain said.

Hall needed to be fearless last week against SMU and star receiver Courtland Sutton. The junior is expected to be selected near the top of the 2018 NFL draft, possibly in the first round.

Hall was matched up with Sutton at times and took his lumps, just like the rest of UNT's defensive backs, but made some plays as well. 

Hall was locked in coverage with Sutton when he caught a 4-yard touchdown pass on a fade. Sutton finished with eight catches for 163 yards and four touchdowns. 

Hall made his mark in his matchup with Sutton when he grabbed the first interception of his time at UNT on a deep pass in the first half. He went on to finish with two pass breakups and five tackles. He ranks third among UNT players with nine tackles on the season.

"The interception felt great," Hall said.

The play is one that Hall hopes to build on this week, when the Mean Green take on Iowa in one of their most challenging games of the season.

Those are the types of opportunities Hall always dreamed of having when he was a lightly recruited prospect during his high school career. 

"I used to watch Iowa on TV and now I get to play against them," Hall said. "This is a dream to play against a school like Iowa. The competition is great and gives you a better chance of moving on to the next level."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

Featured photo: North Texas cornerback Kemon Hall (16) intercepts a pass intended for SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton last week at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas.