Steve Hull Confident As QB Of Secondary

Safety was a position of concern in 2011, and depth and injury issues continue to make it an area of vulnerability in 2012. But there is talent and experience at both positions, if everyone stays healthy. Junior Steve Hull is becoming a fixture there, and he is confident the safeties will assert themselves well this season.

Steve Hull and his Illinois safety mates were criticized by fans irate whenever the Illini would give up a big pass play in 2011. He doesn't let the critics damage his self-confidence.

"I understand that. I understand that I'm in a position, me and the rest of the dbs, if you mess up you're exposed and everybody sees it. That's part of the game. What people say on message boards is their opinions. But that doesn't bother me at all."

Hull was praised for his play by the former Illini coaching staff, and the new staff feels the same. He is able to call out checks for the defensive backfield, and he knows how to play the game. His major concern is his health, which reduced his effectiveness last year and causes him to wear a shoulder harness even now.

"It was my shoulder and neck. I had some neck problems throughout the season which knocked me out of the Wisconsin game and the Michigan game after the first quarter. That's in the past now."

The Cincinnati product feels the new coaching staff has been a boost to the team.

"I'm very excited. These new coaches have brought a great attitude so far. Our winter conditioning went really well. We're all feeling it's time for a new era, a new beginning. We've all bought into the ideas they've presented to us so far. We're just moving forward."

Tim Banks works directly with Hull and the other safeties. Hull has found adapting to the coaching change relatively easy.

"I had a similar situation with coach Vic (Koenning) when he was first here. He was the same d-coordinator and safeties coach. But it's good, we work hand-in-hand with the guy that's in charge of the whole defense. And he's a very knowledgeable guy, so I've learned a lot from him."

Hull feels strongly about new head coach Tim Beckman.

"Coach Beckman is energetic. He's definitely a prove-it kind of guy. He brings an energy to practice that makes it enjoyable to the point where practice doesn't seem like practice. It just seems like we're playing and having fun.

"He's doing the right things in my opinion, pursuing the right values and discipline. Those are the things that are going to make us a winning team."

Perhaps his biggest adjustment has come with requirements of the Strength & Conditioning staff. But the results are promising.

"The weight training is a lot different, but I think it's a lot better. There's a lot more explosion stuff, a lot more high rep sets. So we're definitely getting a lot more work toward our muscles. I feel a lot stronger than I did before, so I feel good."

Depth issues at safety are a concern, especially in the spring when scholarship numbers are down. But Hull embraces the extra repetitions.

"We don't have much depth on defense to begin with. That's definitely been a concern of the coaches so far. But I kind of enjoy that. I push myself a lot more in practice, so long as by game time I'm fresh and ready to go. I'm not really worried about the depth thing. It'll be a grind, but we're used to that."

Redshirt freshman Nick North is getting his first chance to compete for playing time at safety.

"He's still young, still trying to get his feet together, and his body. It's definitely a big change, but he's coming along. He's listening and being coachable."

The 6'-2", 200 pounder is uplifted by spring ball progress to date.

"I think we have a very good attitude towards spring ball right now. The conditioning was a lot better than we expected. I feel like we've picked up the defenses, the schemes, the values and attitudes of the coaching staff really well. So I think we're coming along a lot better as a team than we expected."

Of course, it helps to have the confidence boost from whipping UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Hull says it got the monkey off Illini backs after a six game losing streak.

"Absolutely. I was more upset because I didn't play as much due to that lingering issue with my neck. But I was happy to see us out there playing the way I knew that we could.

"To get that win definitely felt great, especially to send those seniors off with a win. To do it two years in a row and make history here was a great feeling. And we have the momentum to go forward."

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