As a senior at Canon-McMillan High School in Canonsburg, Pa., the Western Pennsylvania wrestling championship boiled down to a winner-takes-all battle at heavyweight. Canon-McMillan’s senior heavyweight, Hull, had been sidelined by a separated shoulder sustained during an all-star football game a month earlier.
Hull, with a football scholarship to Penn State in hand and a chance to follow his father’s footsteps to the NFL, surprised almost everyone by competing that night. Outweighed by almost 60 pounds and hampered by having only one good arm, Hull won 3-2.
“We sealed the WPIAL championship with the match that I won with a separated shoulder but I didn’t wrestle after that. I was undefeated that year, too,” Hull said at the Scouting Combine, speaking as matter-of-factly as if pointing out that water is wet and fire is hot.
It wasn’t nearly as dramatic but, two weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his knee, Hull competed at the Senior Bowl.
“It’s definitely a big deal (as a linebacker). It’s essential to be tough and gritty and just love contact and competitiveness,” Hull said.
As a senior at Penn State, Hull was named the Big Ten’s Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year and earned some All-American recognition after piling up 140 tackles — almost twice as many as any other player on the roster and fourth-most in the prestigious history of a school known for its outstanding linebackers.
“I don’t look at it like a burden or anything like that,” Hull said of wearing the “Linebacker U” mantle. “I just want to reach my dreams and goals and play in the NFL, like I dreamed about since I was a little kid. I’m going to do anything that it takes to reach that goal.”
Nor was it a burden to be the son of Tom Hull. The elder Hull starred at Penn State and was a 12th-round pick by the 49ers in 1974. He played a total of 25 games as a middle linebacker for San Francisco and Green Bay.
“I thought it was cool,” Mike Hull said. “I knew not too many kids had the type of father that I did. He knew a lot about the game and had a lot of life lessons through football. A lot of that was just from Joe Paterno and how he was brought up. It was very valuable to have a father that had so much insight. ...
“You’ve got to get better every single day,” he continued. “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.”
Hull and his father played the same position but in totally different fashions. Tom Hull, who played in the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust era of college football, was old-school all the way.
“Yeah, but it’s been a long time,” Mike said when asked if he’d seen video of his father playing. “It was VHS film or something like that. My dad’s like 6-3, 245 when he played. He was a bruiser and played traditional middle backer and basically just lined up over the center and went to work. It’s completely different.”
Mike Hull, who recorded 294 tackles, with 6.5 sacks and 21.5 for losses, during a four-year career that included 23 starts, is more new school. At 6-foot and 237 pounds, he lacks ideal height — though he’s got plenty of strength with 31 reps on the bench press, which was by far the most of any inside linebacker at the Scouting Combine. His 4.68 in the 40 was about on par with the top inside linebacker prospects and his 4.15 in the short shuttle ranked fourth among all 35 linebackers invited to Indy.
Despite the pedigree, production and athleticism, Hull is considered a fourth-round pick. He’s not tall — in fact, he might not even be on the Packers’ board with an official height of 5-foot-11 7/8 — and he’s not an elite athlete.
“I told these guys downstairs — all the scouts and coaches — that I’ve been the underdog my whole life,” Hull said. “I’ve played with a chip on my shoulder and I’ve come out on top at every level and I don’t expect it to be any different at the next.”
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