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Canon-McMillan's Hull steadying force at PSU

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Since arriving at Penn State four years ago, Mike Hull has been a subordinate under four coaches, four defensive coordinators, two linebacker coaches and 20 captains.

He has seen the steely resolve of linebacker Michael Mauti; the no-nonsense style of coach Bill O'Brien; the intensity of linebacker Glenn Carson; the paternal, respect-commanding presence of coach Joe Paterno; and the makes-you-want-to-follow-them charisma of defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and coach James Franklin.

Now it's Hull's turn to hold an official leadership position. Although the linebacker from Canonsburg said he has learned a lot from those he has followed, he isn't going to copy them.

“You've got to be your own person,” said Hull, named a defensive captain last week. “I feel like if you try to be someone you're not, people lose respect for you.”

That doesn't seem to be a worry for Hull.

“He's a role model for me, a guy who does the right things,” sophomore linebacker Brandon Bell said. “It's easy to follow him. You know if you do, you'll be doing the right thing.”

Weeks after meeting Hull, Franklin said of him as an athlete: “When you first look at him, you might think he's not a real big guy, but that's deceiving. He's 235 pounds, which is plenty big enough, and he's freakishly strong, so he plays bigger than that.”

In some ways, that characterization applies not just to Hull's body but also to his personality. He generally speaks in soft tones. His leadership tendencies are the proverbial by-example and non-vocal styles.

Yet in the right situation, Hull has been known to transform into overly demonstrative. Late during last year's home finale against Nebraska, Hull was easy to spot firing up himself and his teammates.

“I just feel like if I'm a real hard worker, I don't need to say anything unless something needs to be said,” Hull said. “But whenever you're out there on Saturdays or at practice, I'm not afraid to get after it if I need to.”

Those who have known Hull best say he simultaneously maintains personas of laid-back and intense competitor.

“What a caring, compassionate kid,” said Hull's coach at Canon-McMillan, Guy Montecalvo. “But he knows when to turn on fire and aggression you need to have on the football field.”

Montecalvo said part of what makes Hull so endearing to coaches is that, as one of the most talented players on the team, he also is unquestionably one of its hardest workers.

“Mike really leads in his own way, and it's a team he loves,” fellow PSU captain Miles Dieffenbach said. “He's one of the hardest workers on the team, he plays hard every snap and practice every rep, and the team loves and appreciates him for it.”

Those physical and intangible talents are part of what the new coaching staff saw that compelled it to move Hull to middle linebacker.

That's also where Hull's mental talents will be put to best use. Hull is responsible for communicating defensive calls.

“Within the frame of our package, we will have multiple blitzes within the framework of a single huddle call,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “We'll have tags in a huddle call that if it's in a particular formation, we'd run a blitz. In today's tempo/no-huddle/spread things, communication ... is critical.”

Hull, a three-time academic All-Big Ten honoree, is the rare player who can talk football at the level of Shoop, a Yale alumnus.

“We're finishing each other's sentences,” Shoop said.

In the weight room, as a team spokesman, on the practice field, in his performance and in making the calls during games, Hull's leadership skills will be on display.

“It's good that we have Mike, a guy who we can trust and rely on to make the right call every time,” safety Jesse Della Valle said. “He definitely commands the respect of everyone on this team.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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