Former Southern University strength and conditioning coach Thomas “Zeus” Hall was killed shortly after midnight Sunday when his vehicle hit a train that was crossing U.S. 61 just north of Thomas Road, State Police said in a news release.
Hall, 40, was driving a 2002 GMC Yukon north on U.S. 61 when he crashed into a Kansas City Southern engine, the release says.
State Police said Hall was pronounced dead at the scene.
The train crossing had working bells and lights to signal the train, and railroad workers with fluorescent vests and flares were present at the time of the crash, the State Police said.
It was not known whether Hall was impaired at the time of the crash, the release says, but troopers have submitted a sample of his blood to the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab for analysis.
Hall was a Baton Rouge native who played defensive line at Southern University and spent 14 years coaching there before transferring to Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss., last year, according to Alcorn State’s website.
Hall worked under former Southern strength coach Billy Long, who left in 2001. Hall then teamed up with Danny Morris to help lead Southern to a black college national championship in 2003.
Hall earned “Zeus” as nickname because of his large size when he played at Capitol High School in the early 1990s, his sister, Wanda Stewart, said Sunday.
Hall finished his playing career at Southern in 1995. He earned an associate’s degree in law enforcement in 2000 and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2001, Stewart said.
He was also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Stewart said.
Stewart, 47, said Hall was motivated when it came to football and developed a love for the game as early as second grade.
“He loved helping young men establishing themselves in football,” Stewart said.
Stewart said her brother was in Baton Rouge on Saturday morning. He planned to make a quick roundtrip - go to Alcorn State on Saturday and return to Baton Rouge late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, she said.
She said Hall was on his way back to Baton Rouge when he got in the accident.
“We are in prayer, and we are supporting each other,” Stewart said. “It’s a difficult time because it’s so unexpected.”
Melvin Spears, a Clinton native and Alcorn State’s first-year head football coach, said he knew Hall for more than 20 years before hiring him as Alcorn’s strength coach for the 2011 season.
“He was just a great individual that cared for his friends,” Spears said.
Spears said Hall coached with great compassion and emotion.
“Our condolences go out to his family from the Alcorn family,” Spears said. “Certainly, he was doing an outstanding job here.”
Malvin Williams, Alcorn interim athletic director, said Hall was a joy to work with.
“The staff and student-athletes are in shock over this tragic news,” Williams said in a statement. “Our deepest sympathies and prayers are with his family in their time of bereavement.”
Pete Richardson coached Hall and worked with him when Richardson served as Southern’s coach from 1993 to 2009.
“I think he’s going to be sorely missed,” Richardson said. “He loved strength and conditioning. He had an uncanny ability to motivate individuals.”
Current Southern coach Stump Mitchell only worked with Hall for one season, but he said Hall did a fantastic job with the Jaguars’ program in 2010.
“I turned the football program over to him for the most part,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he had friends and colleagues from Southern call and text-message him throughout Sunday about Hall’s death.
“They just can’t believe it, just can’t believe how short life is,” Mitchell said. “It’s a part of a bad situation that happened to everyone that’s familiar with Southern and Thomas Hall.”
In Lorman, Miss., Alcorn State’s team practiced Sunday afternoon. Before practice began, however, Vera Hall, director of ministry of the Wesley Foundation at Alcorn State, addressed the players.
“One of the things we told them was that when tragedies like this happen, it brings us closer together,” she said. “Thomas Hall would want us to bridge our individual gaps ... and continue to persevere.”
Alcorn State center Isaac Williams, a team captain, said “Zeus” had a passion for his players and their goals in life.
“Your goal was his goal,” Williams said. “He was behind you 100 percent. You could count on coach Zeus being there, pushing you.”
Advocate sportswriter Perryn Keys contributed to this report.