Hull 'Feels Good to be Back'

After switching from safety to wideout, senior Steve Hull is eager to make the most of his final season at Illinois.

CHAMPAIGN - When it comes to athletics, Steve Hull is one of those naturals, one of the lucky few who look comfortable no matter the sport or the position being played.

This offseason, the Illinois senior moved back from safety to wide receiver, his original position, due to past shoulder injuries and the potential to further the damage done.

While it certainly wasn't as simple, Hull, who lettered in football, basketball and track at Cincinnati's Sycamore High, made the switch from defense to offense look ordinary during the first spring practice earlier this month. That didn't surprise close friend and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

"Whether it's receiver, safety, corner, running back, whatever it may be, he's a guy that can play wherever," Scheelhaase said.

Hull's size, 6-2, 205 pounds, and background as a safety is a good starting point in shaping what he offers as a wideout. He says he's not afraid to make tough catches in the middle of the field or to set out to block linebackers, but he added that he's not confined to those sort of tasks.

"I can be physical inside. I'm comfortable inside with linebackers and getting physical and kind of coming downhill making tough catches," he said. "I think I can bring that as well as a deep threat."

That's right, so far Hull has shown himself to be a vertical threat. And he's got a good set of hands -- he had a team-high two interceptions in only five games last season.

"Steve has been very impressive," coach Tim Beckman said. "He's got some wide receiver skills, no question."

With his adjustment period shorter than expected, the important thing is Hull stay healthy. That's why he made the move to begin with.

His freshman year he sat out five games with an ankle injury. In 2011, a bad back sidelined him for two. Last season saw the greatest struggle as Hull missed seven games with shoulder troubles.

Moving to wide receiver won't eliminate the chance of re-injuring his shoulder, but he stands a far greater chance of making it through his first full season by playing on offense.

"A lot less collisions, but there's definitely risk in falling down on it and reaching for balls and things of that nature, but I feel a lot more confident with my comfort level," he said.

Hull was, of course, missed from a physical standpoint last season. But as a multi-year starter and well-respected person in the locker room, not being able to play cost the team more than tackles and pass coverage.

"One thing Steve Hull is, Steve Hull is an exceptional leader." Beckman said. "Not having him on the football field defensively last year definitely hurt us. We need him on the football field. We've got to keep him healthy."

And so the move was made. To this point, everything is on schedule and Hull figures to play a prominent role in 2013. To help ensure that, he and Scheelhaase, along with Reilly O'Toole, Miles Osei and others stay after each practice for extra pass and catch sessions. Anything to help the process, Hull says.

"It's definitely a big switch, mentality-wise it's a big change, conditioning-wise it's a big change," he said. "I don't know how many deep routes I ran (during one practice) and I had to come right back, so my legs are getting adjusted to it. The playbook, I'm getting that down. It feels good to be back."

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