St. Paul's striker Nate Hall prides himself on being 'goal-oriented'

The long diagonal run from St. Paul's senior Nate Hall started before midfield and didn't end until he got past the 18-yard mark.

Most times, such an effort would finish with a goal from the All-Metro striker, but circumstances were much different this time: The Crusaders had been caught flat-footed against McDonogh earlier this season, and the No. 1 Eagles were set to cash in on a quick counter.

Hall sprinted back to the defensive third to disrupt that plan.

Supplying offense is Hall's primary role for No. 5 St. Paul's (7-2-1) and he's displayed quite a knack. Last year, he scored 21 goals and added four assists to lead the Crusaders in an improbable run to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game in their first season in the powerful league.

But one of the area's premier finishers — he has 11 goals and seven assists this season — is just as much a premier competitor. Hall, a dynamic and complete package, brings much more than goals. The determined effort against McDonogh was a prime example.

"Would Cristiano Ronaldo get back like that?" St. Paul's coach Majid Mirza said with a smile. "It was a huge effort, and it's beautiful when you see it. The other guys see that and say, 'Well, if he's doing it, then I need to do it.' We all learned from that."

Entering the mighty MIAA A Conference after competing in the league's B Conference, the Crusaders had the heavy burden of proving themselves last year.

That's nothing new for Hall.

At 5 feet 4, he doesn't have the look of a feared striker.

He sports prescription goggles that have a tape job in the back. He had his right wrist taped for a club game a couple years ago and the team won, so he continues to do it for every game. He starts a game with his shirt tucked in on the referee's order, but it comes out shortly after the first whistle.

When St. Paul's got new uniforms this season and the No. 6 jersey he wore last year was tagged a "large," he asked for a smaller size. The No. 3 he now wears is working out just fine.

"He just goes out and does his thing," Mirza said. "He demands respect just because of who he is. People say he's small, but he plays huge."

Hall, who was 5-years-old when he began playing, has always been a striker and a natural scorer.

But he also works hard at it. He runs every day after practice. He lifts weights three times each week. And during the weekend, he'll shoot and work on his ball skills to stay a step ahead of opposing defenders.

Playing with and against elite competition in the MIAA A Conference and on club teams — he was with the Baltimore Bays before moving on to Baltimore Celtic — also helps.

"Soccer is something I've always been pretty good at, and it's what I look forward to every day," Hall said. "I'm a goal-oriented person and have set high expectations for myself, so just coming out here to practice, I know it will get me better and pay off."

Hall is a polished offensive player — precise with the ball, able to shoot with both feet, and capable of scoring from anywhere. His blue-collar look matches his approach.

"I like pressuring defenders and not letting them get out of things easy. That's the style I've been taught my whole life," he said. "Pressuring and playing every game as hard as you can is really important to me."

McDonogh defender Scatt Macdonald has seen plenty of Hall the past few years. He plays with him in club and against him in high school. Macdonald prefers the former.

"Nate is one of the most respected players in the league. He's definitely one of the hardest working and biggest competitors I've gone up against," he said. "You look up and think you have him under control. And then you relax for one second, maybe because the ball is at the other end. As soon as the ball turns over, you look up again, and he's on the other side of the field wide open. He always keeps you on your toes, and if you lose him for that second, he'll make you pay for it."

Gilman found that out this season.

The Greyhounds pride themselves on playing strong, organized defense and their consistent success in the MIAA starts with the work in back. Hall's four goals in the Crusaders' 7-0 win at Gilman on Sept. 5 was something Greyhounds coach Jon Seal had never seen in his 11 years.

"We man-marked him, and I thought we were doing a pretty good job — he didn't touch the ball for the first 10 minutes in. And then the first time he touched it, he scored. And then the second time he touched it, he scored. He's that dangerous," Seal said. "You don't really have an answer for it, and it wasn't any lack of effort from our kids.

"It was just him outclassing anyone we threw at him. I hadn't seen an elite player like that dominate us like that before. It was a helpless feeling as a coach, but a pretty remarkable performance on Hall's part."

McDonogh first-year coach Brandon Quaranta has coached Hall in club ball since Hall was 11, and has never had to pull him out of a game. To watch Hall play — tireless and rugged to accompany his impeccable skills — is a testament to his physical and mental toughness.

It leaves Quaranta with no doubt that Hall can prosper at the college level. A number of top Division I schools — including Wake Forest and Clemson — are interested.

"I've had college coaches discuss his size and how it translates to the college game, and I told every single one of them that I don't think it's an issue because of his mentality," Quaranta said. "If they spent day in and day out with Nate they're going to appreciate all the things he brings to the game and can bring to a program."

Hall has some work left to do at St. Paul's, and that's what his attention is on now. Last season, the Crusaders started 1-2 and then went unbeaten for 15 straight games before falling to McDonogh in the championship game, 1-0, on a goal that came in the final minute.

It was a crushing defeat that serves as motivation. That's not good news for opposing defenses.

"It was a good learning experience," Hall said. "Just the thought of coming that close and not winning it makes me want to work even harder so I can get to that same moment this year. Winning a championship as a senior would be the greatest feeling."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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