James Franklin has a man-crush on Mike Hull, and it’s not hard to understand why.
During the press conference following Saturday’s win against Temple, Franklin’s praise for Hull neared gushing.
“I love Mike Hull. I have a man-crush on Mike Hull, you’ve heard me say that before. I love the guy, his leadership. He’s one of the most high-production, low-maintenance guys all over the field that I’ve ever been around. He’s everything you want, he’s a blue-collar, hard-nosed, athletic, humble, appreciative, I could go on and on about how I feel about him.”
Hull is a hard worker, a great football player and a genuinely nice guy off of the field. He’s battled back from injuries, led the nation’s third-ranked defensive team and earned the respect of his coaches and teammates. He’s being called the embodiment of Penn State, an honor, responsibility and legacy that he should be very familiar with since his pedigree screams blue and white.
Both Hull’s uncle, John, and father, Tom, played at Penn State; Tom spent three seasons as a Nittany Lion linebacker (1971-1973). During that time, he helped the team to a 33-3 record, including the perfect 12-0 season in 1973 and the somewhat infamous Cotton Bowl win over Texas. He was later drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and spent a year with the Green Bay Packers.
From early on, the Hull family instilled a deep love of Penn State in their son, tailgating and taking him to games as early as six years old. From there, Hull begged his parents to let him play football in elementary school, something they were initially against, but his talent and drive won out. Even at a young age, he impressed college scouts enough to collect a lot of offers, even though he was dealing with a bad back injury at the time.
There was only one offer that really mattered to him though. There was no question about where he would commit. He wanted the atmosphere, the sense of belonging, and the family that Penn State promises its students. Hull has never had anything but praise for his alma mater.
“Every single Saturday, it’s just so intense, an amazing atmosphere. Nowhere else I’ve played in the country comes anywhere close.”
After spending his true freshman season as a redshirt, he did well in the two following seasons, but Hull’s time to shine came after the departure of Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges in 2012. During the 2013 season, he stepped into his “Linebacker U” role and dominated the defensive line, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in tackles after playing in only ten games due to a knee injury. Despite playing on one leg for much of the season, his impact was immediate.
Flash forward to this year, where he’s been elected as a co-captain and had 111 tackles through 10 games to lead the Big Ten, an impressive statistic for anyone, but especially for someone of Hull’s size. At six feet and 232 pounds, he is generally not the biggest guy on the line, but that’s never stopped him. What he lacks in stature, he makes up for in hard work; his determination on the field and drive in the weight room (he is near the top in all of the major benchmarks) give him the ability to physically dominate players who outweigh him by 60 pounds.
He’s one of the most important players for the Nittany Lions, but he won’t tell you that himself.
Penn State’s defense ranks third in the nation, and Hull is largely responsible for that. Senior Sam Ficken, who has had his own share of glory during his tenure at Penn State, gave Hull the credit for one of the strongest defenses in college football.
“You see him making every play he could possibly make, you know? He’s flying around, he’s really the cornerstone of that defense, which is incredible and keeping us in the game. I couldn’t praise him enough for what he’s been able to do this season.”
Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, one of the co-captains with Hull, also heaped praise on his teammate for his work ethic and performance.
“For our defense, obviously a very talented player. Having him on the defensive side of the ball with the amount experience he has is huge for us as a team, and I have a ton of respect for him as a player both on and off the field.”
The bottom line is that Hull commands respect from every angle. In measurements of attitude, athletic ability and academic prowess, he is a coach’s dream. He has only ever reflected positively on himself, his family, and his teams.
Franklin joked that he’s “trying to figure out a way to keep him here longer,” but until he does, coaches, teammates, and fans alike will miss Hull and his dedication to Penn State.
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