Penn State linebacker Mike Hull stands 6-foot, 226 pounds. And yet he has something in common with offensive lineman Donovan Smith and defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, who both outweigh him by about 100 pounds.
Hull, Smith and Jones -- along with 300-pound O-lineman John Urschel -- are tied for the Nittany Lion record in the bench press, each having hoisted 405 pounds in the exercise. PSU began keeping such records when strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald was hired last year.
Hailing from the Pittsburgh suburb of Canonsburg, Pa., Hull explained that bench pressing was an important part of his workout routine as a youngster.
Being from Pittsburgh, people are saying if you're not benching, you're not lifting, Hull said. So whenever you grow up in Pittsburgh, that's kind of the thing you do, benching all the time.
Hull added he never tried to max out on the bench while in high school, but that he could do 285 probably 10, 12 times.
That changed when he first arrived at Penn State. Under Joe Paterno and his staff, the Nittany Lions did not do nearly as much work with free weights as they are doing under Bill O'Brien and Fitzgerald. It has been a welcome change for Hull.
It's been great, he said. I really enjoy the weight program and I think our team overall has benefitted from it.
The team stands to benefit from the redshirt junior Hull seeing more action this season, too. With All-Big Ten outside linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges both off to the NFL, Hull -- who was a key reserve last year -- has been plugged in as the starting Sam 'backer.
Glenn Carson, who returns for his third season as the starter at the Mike middle linebacker position, scoffed at the notion that Hull is some sort of newbie.
I really don't see Mike as a stranger, Carson said. He's been around and has so much experience. I've played next to him for a while now.
Indeed, though he only started one game last season -- filling in for the injured Mauti at the Will position in the finale against Wisconsin -- Hull ranked among the defense's top playmakers. He finished fifth on the team in tackles (58) and had more sacks (four) than Mauti (2.5) and Hodges (one) combined.
He was the only defender to register a touchdown, doing so on a 74-yard scoop and score vs. Navy. And he blocked a punt against Ohio State that Mike Yancich recovered for a touchdown. He also intercepted a pass at Iowa.
Hull did all this while serving several roles. He was the top reserve at linebacker and also was used as a coverage 'backer in obvious passing situations. He played on most special teams units, too.
He has all the potential in the world, Carson said. He pretty much has it all as a linebacker. He's extremely tough, he has good speed, can run to the ball, has good awareness. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to have a good year this year.
Though a bit undersized, Hull more than compensates with elite athletic ability. Among PSU linebackers -- including Mauti and Hodges -- he holds records in the 40-yard dash (4.55 seconds), squat (475 pounds) and bench (405). He is second to Mauti in the NFL shuttle (4.22 seconds), clean (315) and overall strength index. In the winter, Hull won a Hair On Fire award from the strength staff for being the hardest worker among the defensive bombers, or linebackers.
In Penn State's revamped weight room, the top workout performers in each exercise -- ranked by position and overall -- are featured prominently on the back wall. Hull's name is listed eight different times, something in which he takes pride.
It's great, because it shows that all your hard work in the off-season pays off, he said. Sometimes, it gets pretty grueling in the winter. But in the end, when it pays off on max day, you feel pretty good.
Hull feels pretty good about his expanded role in the defense this spring, too. His focus is on being strong at the point of attack and getting off blocks (against) the run. He is confident it will all come together in time for him to succeed in what figures to be a benchmark season.
It's a little bit different because I was a role player last year and now I'm expected to do everything, he said. I'm ready for that challenge. It's been great so far and I'm ready to go.
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