Playing Linebacker’s the Family Business

Playing linebacker is in the genes of Baylor's Bryce Hager, Penn State's Mike Hull and UCLA's Eric Kendricks, who were happy to share the spotlight with their families on Friday at the Scouting Combine. (Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY)

If the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, then the inside linebacker group gathered at the Scouting Combine was the equivalent of an apple orchard.

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UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, one of the top inside linebackers in the class, is the brother of accomplished Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks and the son of former UCLA running back Marvin Kendricks.

Baylor’s Bryce Hager is the son of former Eagles and University of Texas All-American linebacker Britt Hager.

Penn State’s Mike Hull not only is the latest star from “Linebacker U,” but he’s the son of former NFL linebacker Tom Hull.

With the name comes pressure, though maybe not like you’d imagine, Bryce Hager said.

“I feel like anyone has pressure with the name on their back,” he said on Friday at the Scouting Combine. “You’re representing your family name, so with me growing up, my dad never put pressure on me. Playing football, if you want to play, you can play. It’s something I love to do, so I’m going to take pride in my name, regardless of if he played football or not.”

Bryce Hager (6-1, 234) was a second-team All-American following a senior season of 114 tackles, which brought his four-year tally to 322. That’s nice, but Dad has bragging rights in this one. Britt Hager had 382 tackles – in his final two seasons alone. He owns the top two spots in the all-time ledger with 195 tackles in 1988 and 197 in 1987.

That’s practically the dinosaur era, considering the way the NFL has changed to a game of speed. So, when Hager was asked which linebacker he tried to model his game after, he naturally said … Carolina’s Luke Kuechly.

Wouldn’t Dad be mad for disrespecting his elder?

“No. My dad, the way he played, that’s not how it works nowadays with offenses and stuff,” he said. “My dad was a great player, yes. But in present day, it’d be Kuechly. In past players, it’d be my dad.”

While Britt Hager, a third-round pick by the Eagles in 1989, played nine NFL seasons, Tom Hull, a 12th-round pick by San Francisco in 1974, played two seasons for the 49ers and Packers. As was the case with the Hagers, there’s not a lot of similarities between the Hulls other than their positions.

“My dad’s 6-3, 245 or whatever he played at,” said Hull (6-0, 237). “He was a bruiser. Played traditional middle backer. Basically just lined up over the center and went to work.”

The eras might be different – Hull has only seen his dad play on VHS, not fancy DVDs, for instance – but the lessons instilled from Dad, which were passed down from Joe Paterno, hold true today.

“You’ve got to get better every single day,” Hull said. “People are always out there trying to outwork you so you can never stay the same. That’s what I do. That’s what makes a player: Going to work every single day.”

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This will be the second draft in four years for the Kendricks family. Mychal, who was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year at Cal in 2011, was a second-round pick in 2012. Eric (6-0, 232) enters the draft following a Butkus Award-winning senior season in which he set the UCLA record with 149 tackles and led the nation with 101 solo stops.

Score one for little brother in their never-ending competition.

“We were 17 months apart, so we fought all the time,” Eric said. “We competed in everything, including getting to the remote for the television. I was born in that environment and I still to this day crave it. I crave competition and I find it in every aspect of life. Competition is in my blood.”

Questions for Bryce Hager, Mike Hull and Eric Kendricks were as much about their families as themselves on Friday. And that’s OK, Kendricks said.

“I’ve already created my own legacy. I’m Eric Kendricks,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’ll always be my brother’s little brother. I’m going to keep getting questions (about Mychal) and I don’t mind them at all. I think he’s a great football player. I love to talk about him.”

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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