Camp Pendleton Marine finds new home at SDSU

(Credit: Twitter @trendingjoey)

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1925 Marine Football Team with the iconic MCRD architecture in the background (Credit: Abebooks)

At the genesis of the sport, college football was dominated by the military. Like the more fabled branches, the Marines also competed on the gridiron. Beginning in the early 20th century, the Corps had two teams, one in Quantico, VA, and the other in San Diego. Both excelled.

In 1933, the San Diego Marines (SDM) beat Santa Clara 14-7 at Balboa Stadium. Santa Clara was a football powerhouse at the time. The following week, they lost to UCLA 14-13, failing to convert a PAT because of an injury to their kicker. This chapter of football history in America’s Finest City coincided with the start of the team at San Diego State.

Credit: SDSU Yearbook Del Sudoeste 1963

Only eleven programs have been on the Aztecs’ schedule more than SDM. On September 19, 1922, SDSU opened its second season against the Devil Dogs, winning 18-0. This began a series that concluded unceremoniously on November 30, 1963.

Up 12-9 late in the game, SDSU was called for a controversial pass interference penalty. Upset, an Aztec jumped offside and took out SDM’s halfback. A benches clearing scrum ensued. When calm was restored, SDM scored the game-winning touchdown.

In 1962 and 1963, under Don Coryell, SDSU went 15-4 and won two consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Association Conference titles. SDM handed the Aztecs a pair of those defeats. Overall, the Aztecs had a 10-16-2 record against the San Diego Marines, who folded their intercollegiate team in 1964 at the height of the Vietnam War.

The legacy of this rivalry will play out on the Mesa this season. Junior Joseph Hall, a Marine from 2017-2021, will suit up for the Red and Black in 2023.

Joseph Hall

“Seeing Joseph go to the Division I level, there is no one more deserving that I can think of to be where he’s at,” Specialist Jacob E. Holzchuch, Hall’s position coach with the Camp Pendleton Bulldogs, said in an interview with EVT. “When I think ‘Joseph Hall,’ I think of an absolutely incredible, coachable player. … he was always improving, always engaged, always asking questions, always focused, and never made the same mistake twice.”

The Bulldogs are an all-star team made up of the best players from the Camp Pendleton Football League (CPFL). The CPFL consists mainly of active-duty Marines. After working 12 to 15 hours a day, they carve out multiple hours a week to practice and compete.

With players ranging in age across multiple decades, the seriousness, level of competition, coaching received, and even the number of teams vary from year to year. Some participate for a distraction, others because it’s the last chance to play the game they love. For Hall, it was the opportunity to keep his Division I dream alive.

Hall grew up in Sacramento. Halfway through high school, in order to take care of his ailing grandmother, he moved to Converse, Texas. He played football at Judson High School and had some interest from a few colleges and universities. His responsibilities, though, took him in another direction.

“Back in 2017, it was my senior year,” Hall said on Episode 57 of The SDSU Football Podcast. “My grandmother was getting really sick, so I made the decision not to be selfish as a young one. Although I wanted to be selfish and focus on myself, I needed to step up and realize what’s more important in my life, so I took a break and stopped playing football my senior year to help take care of my grandmother. That summer… I enlisted in the Marine Corps, and a month and a half later, I shipped out.”

In between two deployments with the Third Battalion, Fifth Marine, and First Battalion, Fourth Marine Divisions, Hall found the CPFL. It reignited a passion and a possibility. After learning the NCAA paused eligibility for service members, he applied himself to the game in the only available avenue.

“Football and the Marine Corps, believe it or not, kind of go hand in hand,” Gunnery Sergeant Luis Moret, head coach of the Bulldogs, explained. “It’s a physical sport. It takes teamwork. It takes communication. It takes comradery. That’s what we do as Marines. We’re very physical in nature. We like to come together to achieve a common goal.” 

Camp Pendleton Football League

The CPFL is a full contact league held traditionally in the fall. A bureaucratic casualty after the $20,000 cost to the run it was allocated elsewhere following the Covid pandemic, the league was a positive outlet for Marines for decades. Instead of finding darker ways to cope with the challenges of Marine life, multiple generations of servicemen turned to football.

Joseph Hall at SDSU. (Credit: Twitter @trendingjoey)

Typically, the coach who won the CPFL would be selected to lead the Bulldogs. In preparation for the annual Salute to Service Defenders Bowl against the San Diego Enforcers, a semi-pro team made up of local police officers, firefighters, and other first responders, who compete in the National Public Safety Football League, the best players from Camp Pendleton would train for months in the spring.  

Moret, who played Division I football, ran the Bulldogs like a college program and said they could compete against most junior colleges. Playing in the CPFL and with the Bulldogs gave Hall near year-round football training.

“It’s a way for them to stay involved in a passion that they have and take their minds off the rigors of military routines,” Saddleback Community College (SBCC) head coach Kerry Crabb explained about the CPFL from his perspective. “You take it for what it is, and you embrace it. You add it into the equation of what you’re getting with the young man. …”

“(Hall) didn’t come to us a total greenhorn. He stayed in the game. There is some muscle memory there. There is some aspect there to playing football that he still retained, and that’s what helped him. It really did.”

Saddleback Community College

Hall left the Marines in 2021. His next stop took him to SBCC in Mission Viejo, CA. At Crabb’s level, coaches frequently scour the campus in search of players to fill out their roster. It did not take him long to discover Hall, who was looking for a way to try out for the team.

Joseph Hall at Saddleback Community College ((Credit: Twitter @trendingjoey)

A week before the first game in 2021, Hall officially became a Bobcat. Both in high school and with the Marines, Hall had only played offense, but Crabb and his staff decided to move him to the defensive line.

Adding Hall to the team at that late date could be a challenge for some coaches. Add in the fact that the GI Bill prevented Hall from redshirting, and Crabb’s generosity comes into focus. In the end, it was an easy decision.

“I was raised a Marine Corps kid,” Crabb explained. “My dad was a lifetime Marine for thirty years. I always felt that here we have these young men that spent the first part of their early adulthood serving our country, and now want to come back into this setting. You’ve got to welcome those kids in. You’ve got to take them all and say, ‘You know what, you have every opportunity to come be part of our program and compete and do what it is that you can do.”

Fit with the Aztecs

Each of Hall’s coaches described him as raw. Only in his third year on the defensive front SDSU’s staff will likely say the same. Herein lies his promise.

Hall is already powerful, athletic, and physically mature. He plays with explosion, toughness, and tenacity. With the advantages available to him at a DI school, there are new levels for him to reach.

Cameron Thomas in 2021 and Jonah Tavai last year both earned All-American recognition. Like Hall, they arrived on the Mesa with little fanfare. Hall hopes to leave as an NFL prospect just like they did.

“I think (SDSU’s coaching) is very important, actually,” Hall said. “It’s almost like you’re trying to sell a car with no experience. Selling a car is a business at the end of the day. If you can’t have someone mentor, coach, or teach you how to do that position, ultimately, I’m not really going to go anywhere in life or on the field.”

(Credit: Twitter @trendingjoey)

With SBCC, Hall played inside, taking on larger players each snap. He was able to compete in the interior because he played with good leverage underneath the opposition. On film, he showed a variety of techniques.

At times, he was quick off the ball and blew past his opponents. Other times, he bull-rushed the interior lineman into the offensive backfield or used speed after the snap to get around a would-be blocker. When engaged with linemen, he kept his eyes in the backfield instead of getting caught dancing with the person right in front of him.

“For him, it was a steep learning curve,” Crabb explained. “This young man has been on two different deployments. He spent his whole time worrying about staying alive, in essence, and not worrying about whether he’s playing three-tech(nique) or five-tech(nique) and whether they have 11 or 10 personnel. It was a steep learning curve from that aspect.”

“It was hard for him at first because he was transitioning to a new spot. … He had to play that first year, and that was really a growth and development year for him. That was a redshirt year (in essence). He ended up playing, but that was a redshirt year because he was developing. He was learning football all over again.”

“He’s a good athlete. He really is. He’s raw, he’s young, he’s green because he spent four years doing one thing and now two years trying to relearn another skill set, and he’s getting there. This year alone, his growth from the beginning of the year to the end of the year was really significant to the point where that level of play got him on the radar of numerous schools that looked at this young man and saw a large, physical specimen, who can run – a little stiff – but he’s working through that. That’s what’s getting him better. He’s learning those little nuances and getting better at the position. …”

“If he continues on the path that he’s on if he continues the progression that he’s on, he has a chance just because he’s a big, physical kid.”

Locker Room Champion

SDSU has multiple needs Hall can impact in 2023. They are replacing all three starters on the defensive line. Any quality snaps the former active duty Marine can give would lengthen the rotation and help keep everyone fresh. On top of anything he can do on the field, Hall can have a significant impact off of it.

Hall (#98) was a team leader at Saddleback. (Credit: Twitter @trendingjoey)

Hall is older than every player on the team, with life experiences few can rival. He has a perspective usually only acquired over time. The privilege to play Division I football is not lost on him. He carries himself with a contagious gratitude that should have added resonance because he speaks from within the locker room.

“Having that perspective (as a Marine) that they can bring into the conversation in the locker room is immense,” Crabb said. “That when our guys come in, and they complain because they felt the day was hard or they’re dragging, or maybe it’s hot out there, for these guys to stand up and say, ‘wait a minute. Let me tell you what hard is. Let me tell you what having to endure and persist is all about.’ And then, they recount some of the things they did, that they experienced, (it gives their teammates) a new perspective.”

In addition to the defections up front, the defense is losing a big portion of its heart and soul. Linebackers Caden McDonald and Michael Shawcroft, along with Tavai, led by their example. SDSU started winter conditioning this week, and Hall’s presence replaces some of what these stalwarts brought.

Veteran players understand through experience how to work through challenges and what great team chemistry feels like. Hall knows these qualitative aspects even better.

“The Marine Corps does a great job of taking good people and turning them into great people,” Holzchuch explained. “It chisels out and sends home the 14 Marine Leadership traits and the 11 Marines Leadership principles. … Because Joseph Hall is infantry and the Marine Corps forced him to take leadership down to its lowest form, I have full confidence in Joseph Hall being able to be a leader and standout among his team because he was part of one of the greatest teams in the world, which is the United States Marine Corps.”

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No one is more deserving than Joseph Hall

At Saddleback, Crabb said Hall played with an urgency that bordered on anxiety.

Hall was not completely free at the junior college level because most people his age still playing the sport are in the NFL. He wanted to do everything he could to advance his dream and catch up. Crabb predicts that with the Aztecs, Hall will reach new heights because he will compete without worry. He will pour into his craft unchecked by any doubt.

Joseph Hall as a Marine. (Credit: Twitter @trendingjoey)

Hall is a walk-on at SDSU, but make no mistake, if he did not have access to a free education through the GI Bill, he would be a scholarship player somewhere with the same pro aspirations as every other collegiate athlete. Moret, Holzchuh, and Crabb all see NFL potential in him. Hall does too, but making it to the League is only part of his motivation.

“It’s very rare that you do come across that,” Hall said when asked if other Marines have gone on a similar journey. “That’s another big thing I want to be outspoken about. A lot of people just don’t understand it. A lot of people that come out of the military want to play, but they don’t know how to play, so I really want to shine a spotlight on that in general. Just a lot of coaches are unaware about it. Some people don’t even know I’m prior military.” 

“From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli” is a line from the Marine’ Hymn. In 2023, one Marine is going to give those lyrics a new meaning.

When Hall passes through the tunnel at Snapdragon Stadium for the first time, he will not do so alone. As he descends on Bashor Field, he will carry with him the aspirations of thousands whose circumstances made it impossible to fulfill their dreams. His success at SDSU will open more doors for Marines to follow in his footsteps and show that someone does not have to choose between serving their country and playing football. They can do both.

Each season brings new Aztecs to the Mesa. As they play on Saturdays, their stories unfold with fans latching onto their favorites. There is no one more deserving of that attention and affection than Joseph Hall. 


Editors Note: An earlier version of this article stated Santa Clara had played in the Sugar Bowl prior to 1931. They played in two Sugars Bowls in 1937 and 1938. It was included as a fact from an LA Times article without verifying the newspaper’s work. The original article was linked in the first version of this piece

1 thought on “Camp Pendleton Marine finds new home at SDSU

  1. Nice article…..I, too, am a former Aztec and husband and I are longtime SDiegans, so of course we follow the team. Go Aztecs! We’ll be pulling for Hall, but it seems he knows what he wants and most likely will succeed.

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