PSU's Hull sets stage for breakout season

On paper, Penn State returns only one starter at linebacker (Glenn Carson) and loses two All-Big Ten players (Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges) at the position.

But anyone who watched the Nittany Lions' defense in 2012 knows junior Mike Hull isn't an ordinary backup. In many ways, he was Penn State's fourth starter. Hull finished the season with 58 tackles, including five for loss and four sacks, to go along with an interception, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. He also stood out on special teams, playing on all four units and recording a blocked punt against Ohio State that led to a Penn State touchdown.

"Last year kind of set the stage for what I expect to do in the future," Hull said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. "It was great getting out there last year. I'm just ready for my role to increase, and I'm looing forward to being part of a great defense."

Hull appeared in every game as a redshirt freshman in 2011, mostly on special teams, and had 18 tackles and a blocked kick. He built a reputation as a weight-room monster early in his career, and he has accelerated his development under strength coach Craig Fitzgerald, who arrived with coach Bill O'Brien in January 2012. Hull added some weight in the winter and worked on increasing his hip and leg strength.

Although the 6-foot, 228-pound Hull said he and Carson didn't play together often in 2012, they both understand the defensive scheme, which isn't changing much with new coordinator John Butler, the team's secondary coach in 2012, taking over for Ted Roof.

"He's kept pretty much everything scheme-wise," Hull said. "... We're all working hard. We're way ahead of where we were last year as far as assignments go."

Like many Penn State players, Hull's future at the school seemed to be in doubt last summer after the NCAA imposed severe sanctions on the program, including a four-year postseason ban. Hull visited Pitt in late July and considered a transfer but opted to remain at Penn State.

"Best decision I've ever made," Hull said Wednesday. "There's no looking back."

Mauti played a significant role in keeping Hull in Happy Valley. Hull went on to replace Mauti in the starting lineup after Mauti suffered a knee injury late in the 2012 season.

Intensity and leadership are two qualities Hull absorbed from both Mauti and Hodges and hopes to carry over this season, when he's in a major role. Although he's virtually guaranteed a starting linebacker spot, he hopes to maintain a major role on special teams, noting that the third phase "gets us on the field at the next level."

"That's how it is at Linebacker U," Hull said. "When it's your turn to step up, it's go time, it's time to shine. I'm ready to fill that spot for our defense this year."