Steve Hull played both receiver and safety at Cincinnati Sycamore, and he is willing to play anywhere on the field as long as he plays. But he came to Illinois to be a receiver, so it took time to adjust both mentally and physically to a move to safety last fall after the loss of two starters.
Hull played and showed aptitude for the position, but repeated ankle injuries slowed his progress both last fall and in the spring. He has been healthy since summer, and he is beginning to make rapid progress.
"Being injured is always the worst thing as a football player," Hull reminds. "You never like being held out. It feels a lot better to be healthy and be out there 100% running around."
Now an established starter and signal caller for the defensive backs, he had seven tackles and an important pass breakup against Arizona State.
"It feels real good to be out there quarterbacking and starting for this defense."
Defensive backfield coach Mike Gillhamer has helped Hull's confidence.
"That's something Coach Hammer has helped me with. He's helped me be as prepared as possible. I work with guys like Tavon (Wilson), Trulon (Henry) and Supo (Sanni), and we have good chemistry back there. It does help me be a lot more confident."
Gillhamer is a teacher of proper technique, which also helps.
"He's been able to help me a great deal. He's very precise on footwork, technique and reading. He makes it a lot easier to react. And when you do react, you're able to react a lot faster."
Reacting instead of thinking was Hull's main problem last year. After all, he was playing before having time to learn the nuances of the playbook.
"I'm much more experienced. Having a year under my belt at safety definitely allows me to have a better feel for the playbook, technique, the speed of the game, and reaction times. That makes it a lot easier for me.
"It definitely helps since you can buy into one thing, and that's what you're focusing on. Before it was like I was a little unfamiliar with it and didn't quite know what all was going on. Now I can focus on that 100 percent."
He has also worked hard to gain weight and strength, which also helps.
"The major thing for me was getting a lot stronger, not gaining a bunch of weight, but just getting stronger. That would transfer onto the field. It helps me a little bit with the confidence back there going in to fill a gap."
Now that he knows he can do the job, everything is easier.
"The biggest thing for me is to relax and just let my athleticism flow. I want to make sure I know the playbook, and just have fun. I want to work hard every day and push myself."
Gillhamer has helped take the thinking out of each play with proper preparation.
"You do your thinking preplay. They do their best to eliminate all the thinking you need to do before the game. We do a lot of scouting, we do a lot of work. So when game time comes, it's just fun."
The 6'-1", 205 pounder has begun to jell with his fellow starters.
"Last year I was in the film room and the playbook a lot, but this year I'm with Trulon, Tavon and Terry, and we're in the film room together breaking things down. That makes it a lot easier to comprehend."
With each game, the Illini defensive backs grow closer together and learn to trust each other more. The sky is the limit now.
"I think these first three games have really helped bring us together. It's helped us with a lot of experience, it's helped us with game atmosphere and live stuff. So I think we have come together a lot more."