PSU linebacker Hull embracing leadership role
During the final home game of his junior season this past Saturday, Penn State linebacker Mike Hull made a potentially game-saving tackle at the goal line.
“It really showed on that play,” teammate Glen Carson said of Hull lunging to halt a sprinting Ron Kellogg III, “just how instinctual a player he is. As well as how tough he is.”
Earlier in the fourth quarter against Nebraska, Hull was animated in breaking the defensive huddle, waving his arms in an obvious effort to fire up his teammates.
“He was talking a bit more out there, I can tell you that,” linebacker/safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. “It was an emotional game, and he knew that.”
Hard to believe, but Hull, who was one nation's top linebackers of the 2009 recruiting class, has made just nine career starts for Penn State. Hull's touchdown-saving tackle and demonstrative urging on of his teammates helped prove he already has assumed a leadership role.
It's in practice, though, where the Canon-McMillan graduate most transforms from quiet and unassuming into an intense competitor befitting those who preceded him at “Linebacker U.”
“During practice, he will get on you,” cornerback Jordan Lucas said. “When you have to make a play and you're right there to make it, he will let you know. You'll definitely hear it from him.
“Usually, he's more of a laid-back guy. But when things are juiced up, you know where Mike Hull is —you'll know exactly where he is. You'll hear him, and you'll see him.”
Through the first third of the season, Hull wasn't seen or heard much. A knee injury suffered in the first half of the opener prevented him from playing in two of the next three games. He was significantly limited in two others.
“It was hard to assume a leadership role whenever you're not out there competing with the guys,” Hull said. “But after getting back out there, I feel like I've gradually worked more into one, and I think next year it will be even bigger and it will become more natural to me.”
Among Penn State's top seven linebackers who will play in the season finale at Wisconsin on Saturday, Hull is the only non-freshman who will return next season.
With that in mind plus, as Hull put it, “linebackers are relied upon really heavily in this defense,” there isn't much question whom one of the primary defensive leaders will be.
“There's no other way of putting it,” Lucas said. “That's going to be his (2014) job: to lead.”
At 6 feet, 227 pounds, Hull's relatively diminutive size complements his soft-spoken, polite demeanor off the field. On a team in which fiery Michael Mauti cemented immortal “Linebacker U” status by way of his no-nonsense intensity just a year ago, Hull seems to be a different type of leader — even if he ends up just as effective of an outside linebacker.
“A very tough guy who plays through pain, who hates missing practice,” coach Bill O'Brien said. “He's a good player, and as he's become healthier he's played better and better.
“Yeah, he's a definite leader.”
As one of only three 2014 seniors on the Penn State defense who appear to have starting jobs locked up, he won't have much of a choice but to be a leader.
Sizable shoes were left by the two who held the title of linebackers leader immediately before him: Mauti and three-year starter Carson.
Carson is among those who believe Hull is ready.
“He's a guy everybody looks up to,” Carson said. “A hard worker.
“He has all the characteristics that make up a Penn State linebacker.”