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April 4, 2014

Full steam ahead

Mike Hull's misfortune began within the first 10 plays of the 2013 season.

Barely avoiding a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Syracuse, the Nittany Lions' then-fourth year linebacker was forced out of action in two of the next three games. Even then, Hull's performances through the course of the season were a constant evolution of progression, capped by his team-high seven tackles at Wisconsin on the final afternoon in November.

Finishing the season with 61 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, a forced fumble and a handful of broken up passes, all while working back from the injury, Hull doesn't have the distraction of injury to worry about this spring.

As a result, Hull can finally concentrate on improving the areas of his ability knocked off course by last year's setback.

"Probably just being more explosive, making more explosive plays and keeping good body position," Hull said. "A lot of that had to do with the knee last year, losing a lot of explosive movements, but that's probably the main thing I've been working on, and mentally getting ready to take on the load of getting everyone set."

The load, of course, stems from Hull's transition to middle linebacker after spending the 2013 season working at outside linebacker alongside Glenn Carson and Nyeem Wartman.

Learning under new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, Hull has taken on the mantle left by Carson's graduation and departure. And, though Hull isn't entirely unfamiliar with the position, having practiced on the inside during his sophomore year, he acknowledged the biggest adjustment this spring as being one of a personality change.

"Last year I was a lead by example guy. That's kind of how I've been my whole career here. Just working hard. But now I realize that I have to step up and talk and set everybody where they need to be and do what I gotta do to get the most out of everybody," Hull said. "That's probably the hardest transition to the middle, but I think that it's going really well and over the last couple of weeks I think I've really gotten the hang of being more vocal.

"I played middle linebacker my sophomore year whenever Coach Roof was the coach, so I'm familiar with the position. As long as I can take care of getting everyone else set up, I think I should be good to go."

By seemingly every account, the Nittany Lions will have to hope so.

Cited by head coach James Franklin as being one of the team's strengths, Hull is part of a first-string defensive unit that includes both experience and talent, losing only three starters from the 2013 season while returning 12 players who started games through the course of the season.

And, though Hull pointed out the improvements made in the offseason by the likes of younger players including Gary Wooten, Brandon Bell, Wartman and new hybrid linebacker Von Walker, there's little doubt about the importance of the fifth-year senior to the team, regardless of his history with injury. Taking his cues from former linebacker captains like Mike Mauti and Carson, Hull says he's learned how to be an effective, vocal leader this spring while setting his sights on the future.

"I try not to dwell on the past like that and injuries because you really can't control that kind of stuff," he said. "I know the way I work out and go about working might have caused some of those injuries, but I think that's just something you gotta deal with. I still have one more year left and that's all that matters is moving toward the future and taking everything one day at a time."




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