May 17, 2007
San Francisco Chronicle
It's not surprising that Tavo Hall is smart enough to finish first in his graduating class at USF.
What is a surprise is that the three-year starting shortstop on the Dons' baseball team has the time.
"He's a unique kid," athletic director Debi Gore-Mann said.
She pointed out that baseball is one of the more demanding sports, with three-game series most weekends during the regular season from February to May, along with midweek games. Plus, baseball players have a full offseason regimen.
Hall is there for every bit of it.
"He does extra work in the weight room, takes extra grounders and extra batting practice," coach Nino Giarratano said. "Every single moment of his time is dedicated to making himself the best he can be."
The valedictorian of this year's College of Arts and Sciences graduating class at USF, with a 3.88 grade-point average, says there's no secret formula.
"I'm not wasting time. We do what we need to do," he said, adding he takes advantage of downtime in airports, on buses and in hotels.
School officials say they don't track how high athletes graduate in their classes but they believe Hall is the first athlete to graduate No. 1 in his class in at least two decades.
He majored in international studies and someday would like to go to law school and study international law or international politics.
He isn't finished with baseball just yet. He has another year of eligibility and will return to play next year, pursuing more undergraduate coursework in legal studies.
Then he hopes to keep playing for a while before law school.
"He'll have a chance to play professionally," Giarratano said. "He's got all the intangibles."
"I've been playing since I was 5," Hall said. "Because of the joy I get from playing, I owe it to myself to continue as long as I can."
Hall broke his forearm in April this year and missed the rest of the season. His batting average was .240, but he had been getting hot at the plate during West Coast Conference games just before he got injured.
He also was injured last year, breaking his hand in March. He returned in time for the stretch drive, batting .333 as the Dons tied for their first West Coast Conference championship and their first NCAA regional appearance in school history. His career numbers at USF include a .283 average, 18 doubles, 48 RBIs and 38 stolen bases.
Hall says he came to USF from his home in Albuquerque with two priorities: doing well on the field and in the classroom.
As a freshman, he said he had "some crazy ideas" about starting immediately. Instead, he redshirted.
The grades took care of themselves.
"I never really worried about grades," he said. "I never considered the idea of becoming valedictorian. I was just trying to learn as much as I could."
He said he's occasionally dealt with the dumb-jock stereotype.
"If anything, that makes it more fun to go beyond what people expect," he said. "The teachers know we're not different from any other students."
Hall will address his fellow graduates Friday. He plans to talk about his decision to come to USF rather than a bigger school. (He grew up wanting to attend Cal.)
"This was probably the best decision of my life, the small class sizes, the professors, the family feeling of the baseball program."