Unique style of wrestling brings Earl Hall collegiate success

Senior Earl Hall poses at the team’s Media Day on Oct. 20, 2015.

Ben Visser

Earl Hall hates being bored.

ISU wrestling’s 133-pounder hates boring things; he hates food that tastes bland.

Earl Hall and boring are polar opposites.

Earl’s stepdad, Curt Dewberry, crafts Earl’s favorite food — ribs like no one else can. Curt uses all sorts of spices and seasonings. He’ll put some Worcestershire Sauce on it along with a special rub and let it marinate over night so it all soaks into the ribs. The next afternoon they’ll fire up the grill and invite everyone over.

Much like Curt’s ribs, there’s that extra spice and seasoning that goes along with Earl’s style of wrestling. And Curt was the one who instilled that style into Hall’s wrestling.

Whether he’s leaping over his opponents to get a takedown or pinning them with his patented gator roll, watching Earl wrestle is rarely boring.

“When I have a boring match I’ll get so frustrated with myself,” Earl said. “Like I just made these people watch this, and coach will have me come in the wrestling room and be like, ‘Come into the office and watch this match.’ I’m like, ‘This is boring. I really can’t believe I did this to everyone, and myself, and the guy in front of me.’ I hate being bored.”

But also like Curt’s famous ribs, Earl didn’t become who he was instantaneously. He had to fight to get to where he is today.

Seasoned and spiced

“Growing up I definitely needed God in my life because of the area I grew up in and the things that I’ve seen,” Earl said. “I prayed every day and every night: ‘God, help me get up out of here. Help me to be able to take care of my friends and family.’

“I had to get out of there.”

Earl grew up in Miami, Fla., where he played Pop Warner football for his stepdad in middle school.

On the surface, it seemed harmless. A person might picture in their mind a bunch of middle school kids running around, playing America’s favorite sport and looking like aliens with their massive helmets and tiny bodies.

In eighth grade, Earl’s team made it to the Pop Warner quarterfinals in the national tournament. Football is huge in Miami; however, there is a downside. It can get out of hand quick.

“The neighborhood I lived in wasn’t [rough], but the park I played football in was pretty rough,” Earl said. “A lot of gang violence, gun shots at kid’s football games. Guys would be gambling on games. It would get out of hand, and the next thing you know someone’s fighting.

“I remember a couple of times we had to get our game canceled because of people shooting [guns] and fighting and they just wouldn’t stop. My dad almost ended the season for us — the same year we went to nationals. It was kind of wild.”

Gun shots. At a Pop Warner football game.

Earl wanted no part of it. The gang lifestyle wasn’t for him.

He kept a tight knit group of friends. Mainly, it was his brother Shiquan Hall, his best friend Michael Birts and Birts’ brother.

They all played sports. Earl and Michael were the first people from their high school to play their respective sports at the Division I level — Earl in wrestling, Michael in basketball.

The only way to stay off of the streets was to be in school, be in church or to play sports. 

Earl and Michael both attended Robert Morgan High School, but the school didn’t have athletics. They would go to their home school, South Dade High School, to participate in sports. 

Earl and Shiquan were always training partners inside and outside of the wrestling room. But after the first day of practice in high school, they learned there was one thing they weren’t allowed to drill on with each other.

Double-leg drills.

“We tried to kill each other,” Earl said. “I felt like he tried to slam me too hard. I’d get up, try to slam him. We were really just trying to run each other through a wall.”

Earl had all the work ethic, talent and ability necessary to become a collegiate wrestler. He won four Florida state titles in a row, even when he was just 90 pounds as a freshman; however, athletes can’t get to college just because they are good athletes. They have to perform in the classroom too.

Michael was the one who stressed academics to Earl in high school.

“I told him to hit the books hard, because you never know,” Michael said. “Let’s say he goes out there and breaks an arm or chooses to walk away from wrestling, even though that’s his passion. He’ll always have that plan B.”

Michael played basketball for Southern Illinois Edwardsville and graduated with a degree in political science. He has since moved back to Miami, where he’s a math tutor. He’s waiting for law school to start in the fall. 

Michael has seen first hand the gang violence that goes on in Miami.

Michael’s cousin is involved with gangs, so he tries to protect him and be a mentor for him. One time when Michael went to go pick up his cousin, Michael got caught in the middle of a raid.

“Every Thursday, we call it jump out day, and that’s when the police comes through the neighborhood and they raid the neighborhood,” Michael said. “So I happened to be involved in one of the raids on the street because I was looking for my cousin.

“I end up being put on the floor and have automatic weapons pointed at my head and being searched and have my vehicle searched.”

It was just Earl and Michael in high school, as Shiquan went to school at South Dade. They rode everywhere together. They would talk about their life after high school. They would talk about what their goals and aspirations were.

“I didn’t know too many teenagers at the time who had thoughts like that,” Michael said. “Most people worry about how many girls they’re going to get or when they’re going to the beach. The majority of our conversations were about our success and our goals that we wanted to make sure we accomplished before we left.”

Put on the grill

“There’s no other way to go out but with a bang,” Earl said. “I have to go out 9-0 for the rest of the season. I’m not trying to wrestle on the backside of any tournament. I want that third day of the NCAAs to just be to weigh in and wrestle later that night. Just go out with a bang.”

In Earl’s first year at Iowa State, he made the NCAA Championships at 125 pounds. He would go on to be an All-American his freshman year. But before he went to New York, Earl went into the wrestling room crying.

ISU coach Kevin Jackson asked Earl what was wrong when Earl arrived.

“I told him I didn’t want to let my family down,” Earl said.

Jackson said wrestling was a hard enough sport without all of the pressure of wrestling for other people. Ever since then Earl has been wrestling for himself and his future.

Earl wants to continue to wrestle after college. He wants to win as many USA titles as he can and he wants to make a run at the Olympics.

But on top of all of that, he doesn’t want to any embarrassing videos of himself.

“I don’t want, later on down the line, Lelund [Weatherspoon], me, Dane [Pestano] and all the other guys to get together and be like, ‘Earl, do you remember this?’ Earl said. “And have it be an embarrassing moment and they show it in front of my kids and my wife.

“I want to be remembered as one of the greatest. I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who had the talent and didn’t get it done.”

To be remembered as one of the greatest, Earl knows he has to open up another side to him. When Earl won 10-5 in Minnesota, he wasn’t proud of that. He said complete dominance is 16-5 or 15-0.

“I know it’s his last chance to get it all,” Shiquan said. “That’s how I felt going into getting a junior college national title, so hopefully he’s motivated. He was able to see that it took me some soul searching to get to where I was and he got to see that.

“He’s got the blueprint to go do it. I’m pretty excited for him.”

This is Earl’s third year wrestling, but he’s a senior by classification because he spent two years at the Olympic Training Center. This year is his year. It’s his last opportunity.

“I think my heart would be broken if he doesn’t [win the national title] because he can’t get it back,” Yolanda, Earl’s mother, said. “This is a career that someone recruited you to do. Win at least one title for Iowa State.

“He just has to dig deep.”

Earl has won a lot in his career. His career record at Iowa State is 74-37, with 20 of those losses coming in his freshman year. His record in high school was 208-2.

“Earl knows what victory is,” Yolanda said. “Earl knows what the taste of victory tastes like.”