Move to middle LB should satisfy PSU's Hull's need for action
UNIVERSITY PARK — Spending summers in State College, with the long, warm days and relative dearth of people, Mike Hull pursued an outdoor hobby.
Fishing, it turns out, was immeasurably preferred by Hull over hunting.
“It's hard to sit in the tree stand for hours,” Hull said with a chuckle.
Hull's father, Tom, also laughed when asked about his son's aversion to hunting.
“He wasn't going to start that,” Tom said. “Not enough action. Mike has always wanted — needed — to be around the action.”
For his senior season at Penn State, Hull returns to the center of all of it.
The plan is for Hull, a Canon-McMillan graduate who had been playing outside linebacker, to move to middle linebacker.
“We're going to look at that for the spring. We think that's a good look for him,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said. “Because of his leadership and because of his experience and because you're going to be able to count on him. He's a smart guy who will be able to communicate and get everybody lined up, be the quarterback of the defense.”
Franklin stressed Hull allows the Lions to have position flexibility. The 6-foot Hull has added bulk this offseason. With three-year starting middle linebacker Glenn Carson graduated and Hull next in line to assume the primary leadership mantle on defense, the move appears to be a natural fit.
“I challenged him that I wanted him to be the quarterback of our defense,” Lions defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said, recalling his first conversation with Hull upon being hired at Penn State. “As the coordinator, I wanted to have that relationship with the middle linebacker. He was ready for that challenge.”
Even as an injury-marred junior season progressed, Hull's leadership role evolved to the point he was more animated on the field during the Lions' final two games.
“He's not going to be the most vocal guy, at least not at this point,” Franklin said. “But when he speaks, it carries a lot of weight. He's got a presence to him.”
Tom Hull describes his son as a “gentleman off the field, and a monster when he gets on it. That's pretty much how he was raised.”
It would be shortchanging the job Tom and Donna Hull did raising their polite, well-rounded son — he's a finance major and three-time academic all-Big Ten honoree — to say he was born to be a Penn State linebacker.
But he did have the genes: Tom was a PSU linebacker from 1971-73, and Mike's uncle, John, was a tight end there in 1970-71. That gave him both the God-given physical tools and the desire to pursue being the next great linebacker at Linebacker U.
“There's definitely a huge tradition here,” Hull said. “I guess it's just my turn to step up and lead the defense.”
Hull's dad is a Uniontown High School alum; his mother is a native of Ellwood City. Mike was born the day the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup. The family recalls watching the clinching game on the hospital room TV.
It wasn't black and gold that captivated him as a youngster: Hull held more reverence for blue and white. He attended his first game at Beaver Stadium at age 6.
“I've loved (Penn State) ever since and wanted to come here,” Hull said. “Seeing old films and pics with my dad, it was something that was kind of instilled in me when I was young.”
An intensely competitive nature? That, Hull's father said, Mike was born with.
“Innately, he just doesn't like to lose,” Tom Hull said. “He wants to be first. It's been that way from the time he started playing in Pee Wee leagues — always striving to be the best of what he can be.
“He's always wanted to be first, and he's taken it hard whenever he wasn't.”
That's why last season stung so much for Hull. He suffered an MCL sprain on the season's 10th play. Then, according to all involved, he returned a game too soon. It took until the latter weeks of the season before Hull felt more like himself.
That followed three seasons on campus during which he'd been waiting his turn behind a host of future NFL linebackers. It frustrated Hull to the point that, as much as Penn State is woven into the fabric of who Mike Hull is, he concedes “the thought was definitely there” to transfer when the NCAA levied its historic sanctions in July 2012.
“I was real close, honestly, to jumping ship,” Hull said.
In the end, though, “it's all paid off staying,” Hull said. “I wouldn't wanna be anywhere else.”
In Happy Valley. As a captain of the defense. At middle linebacker.
“I feel more comfortable in the middle,” Hull said. “Feel like I can play sideline to sideline, make more plays for your team and have more of a say in it.”
Expected to play at the 235-pound range this season, Hull has the athleticism that allows him to run in the sub-4.6 range in the 40-yard dash as well as have, per Franklin, the best bench press on the team.
“We expect him to have a big year,” Franklin said.