PSU's Hull working way back to full strength
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — After a long offseason of anticipation, the widely projected breakout season of Mike Hull was halted abruptly after all of one quarter.
One month and five days later, Hull finally made it through a full game as a starting Penn State outside linebacker during his redshirt junior season.
“For the last five weeks I've been kind of frustrated not being out there with the guys,” Hull said shortly after the Nittany Lions' 44-24 loss Saturday at Indiana. “So it was good being out there.”
Hull sustained a right- knee injury early in the season-opening win against Syracuse. The injury did not appear serious. Hull came back and played a limited number of snaps that day at muggy MetLife Stadium. Also, coach Bill O'Brien told the Big Ten Network two days later that Hull was “probable” for Penn State's next game.
But Hull didn't play in that Sept. 7 contest. Nor did he play in the Sept. 21 home game against Kent State. Hull was in uniform for a loss against Central Florida on Sept. 14, but it was clear he was not his athletic, playmaking self.
Hull still wasn't completely back Saturday at Indiana — he termed himself at 90-95 percent — but he was much better than he was against UCF.
“It was like night and day,” Hull said. “I tried to give it a go during the (UCF) game because it just tore me up not playing. But it was a lot better (Saturday).”
Hull, a Canon-McMillan graduate, had a half-sack among his 10 total tackles, which tied for the team lead against the Hoosiers. Hull's six solo tackles were tied for second behind linebacker Glenn Carson.
Hull didn't suffer a setback during the loss to the Knights. “I just needed more time,” he said.
Hull endured a pair of two-hour rehab sessions per day. The only reward he had during a five-week span was being relegated to watching his teammates play to a 3-1 nonconference record. The payoff came after the Lions' bye week, which coincided with the start of Big Ten play.
“It doesn't really bother me too much when I'm out there,” Hull said after a game in which Indiana had 486 yards of offense.
“I'm expected to make plays, and I've just got to step up and make plays. Today I hurt my team some. So I've just got to step up.”
Hull's teammates refute his assertion that he was a liability, implying it's purely coincidental that the two games this season in which Hull played the most just happen to be Penn State's only defeats.
“I'm sure that's really just the competitiveness in Mike Hull, trying to take the personal blame,” Carson said. “The bottom line is the kid's gonna play his heart out for us every snap. He's someone who's a real pleasure to play with.”
Penn State's next two games are against conference powers Michigan and Ohio State. The Lions figure to need a full-strength Hull to have a chance against the Big Ten's remaining unbeatens.
“He's playing hurt — he's all wrapped up and got a knee brace all over it — but he's playing tough,” O'Brien said. “He's a fantastic kid, a great example of what we're all about. And I think he'll continue to play hurt. That's just the kind of kid he is.”