Steve Hull came to Illinois from Sycamore High School in Cincinnati with a hope of playing his freshman year. The Illini had an abundance of receivers last fall, so he redshirted. He didn't enjoy it, but he now sees benefits.
"Redshirting was hard. I'm a competitive guy, and I don't like sitting and watching people lose. Especially my teammates. So that was hard for me to do.
"But at the same time I've gained a lot. This year I feel a lot more prepared than I would have been last year. I feel like it was the best thing for me."
It was also no fun going through winter conditioning, but that also had its positive side.
"That was hard. It was a lot different, but I felt like I improved a great deal. I've gained about 12-13 pounds and feel a lot better. And I've improved my strength a great deal."
After the long wait, spring practice was a blessing for Hull.
"It feels good. We take it a lot more serious, especially with these new coaches. It's a big learning curve for everybody, so it's really exciting to be out there playing."
He also likes the fact the receivers are on equal footing in the competition for playing time.
"That's right. Everybody has an equal shot."
Hull and the other receivers have the unique opportunity to be coached by their offensive coordinator Paul Petrino.
"Coach Petrino is a character, but that's a good thing. He's extremely hard on us. He doesn't want to settle for anything but perfection. Of course that's impossible, but that's what's good. We're working to be the best."
Petrino incorporates a number of drills to help receivers improve their hand-eye coordination, their cutting ability and their yards after catch. One set of drills requires them to stand increasingly closer to the Jugs machine as it spits balls at them in rapid-fire motion.
Hull explains it took some adjustment to stand so close to the machine.
"Yeah, that was a little different experience for all of us, to get a lot closer to it. It was a little shocking at first. But it's something we need to work on because it's a big part of the game."
There is much to learn with the new offense, but Hull believes the receivers are progressing rapidly.
"They're doing a good job of helping us installing. Everybody knows what they're doing, and they're doing a good job of pushing us every day."
The 6'-2", 195 pounder believes his background as a defensive back in high school makes him a better receiver.
"I feel like I know the defense. I played safety and db all through high school, so I know how dbs think. I've talked to some players who are in the NFL from my high school, and they've given me some hints.
"I worked with Rejus (Arrelious Benn) a lot last year, and I work with (Jarred) Fayson a lot this year. So I'm trying to be a student of the game. I feel like I know how to run good routes, I know how to find a hole, and I think I have pretty good hands."
Hull is a tremendous all-around athlete. He was also a quality punter in high school, averaging an impressive 42.5 yards per effort. He would be more than willing to punt for Illinois if the coaches needed him.
"Heck yeah. Any way I can get on the field, I'll do it. And punting's a lot of fun. So if I can get on the field doing that, I'd love to do it. I haven't done it since high school."
He is still young and has several upperclassmen ahead of him. But Petrino things he can help the Illini down the road.
"Steve Hull I think has a chance to be a good player for us."