Tom Hull knew that his son could be special, it was just a question of how good he wanted to be. The former Penn State and NFL linebacker raised his only son, Mike, to live and breathe football, and Mike responded in kind, becoming one of the nation's best linebackers.
Mike's story started on the youth fields of the Canonsburg, Pa., area and continued to Canon McMillan High School. He had always played up a level on the football field, and when he started both ways as a freshman in one of the toughest conferences in the state, Tom knew that his son would get a shot to follow in his footsteps. Pitt verbally offered a scholarship as a freshman, and the Nittany Lions followed suit a year later.
"It started back when he was in grade school, and he wanted to get into the little Mac football, and I said if I could get in to coaching with him then he could do it," said the elder Hull. "I tried to teach him some stuff that I picked up from Jerry Sandusky and some other coaches along the way. Hopefully, if he learned it at that age it would be second nature. He's taken that up and so far we've gotten some pretty good results."
As a sophomore, Canon-Mac went head to head with nearby Trinity High School, which featured Penn State bound linebacker Mike Yancich and future Ohio State Buckeye Andrew Sweat. At the end of the game, the Big Macs were victorious, and the general consensus was that the sophomore was the best player on the field, regardless of age.
"That was a big game," said Mike Hull. "I remember it very well. Before the game, I was very nervous because I thought they were going to be out-of-this-world good. I don't know, I just played as hard as I could. I had a bunch of tackles, made some big plays and had some long runs. I had like 180 yards rushing and 17 tackles or something like that."
Schools turned up the heat on the recruiting trail, as Michigan, West Virginia and Ohio State all were heavily interested.
But the draw to follow in his father's footsteps was too much to ignore.
Not surprisingly, Mike committed to the Nittany Lions before the 2008 season finale against Michigan State, and his father had no problems with having his son play for the same coach who patrolled the sidelines in his playing days.
"Joe is a legend. What more can you say?" said the elder Hull. "When you talk collegiate football, Penn State football, it's the name that is synonymous with the university. What he's done with the program, building it up from an eastern school to a national power, I was fortunate enough to be a part of that, and now Mike will be, too. I know when he committed to Joe in the coaches' locker room before the Michigan State game, that was nice. I was proud to be there and proud that Mike committed."
For the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Hull, the decision was a no-brainer.
"When it came down to it, it was only Penn State," he said. "It was an easy choice. I wanted to look around at some other schools, but nothing else compared."
"We'd taken Mike up to some games when he was young, and through the years I think it just naturally kind of grew on him," said Tom Hull. "He always wanted to play there, he just needed the opportunity."
Mike has certainly had his fill of anecdotes about his future head coach from his old man, and laughs when telling his favorite story - when Tom Hull had Paterno in hysterics during a film session following a blowout win over Stanford.
Hull, a starter at linebacker, covertly reentered the game as a nose guard despite the Nittany Lions holding a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter. He spent the next three plays grabbing the ankles of the Stanford quarterback as he received the snap, resulting in consecutive sacks.
A few days later, the hall of fame coach was in stitches as he played back the sequence in a film session.
He has also heard stories from the other side, like when the elder Hull was benched as a junior for not agreeing to a switch from linebacker to defensive end. Mike said that he's learned a lot from listening to his father's tales, including how to deal with his future head coach. When asked how he would handle a position switch like his father's, Hull laughed and said that he would 'do whatever he wanted me to do.'
"There's been a lot of stories, some good, some bad," he said, laughing. "It's good experience because coach Paterno teaches his players so many life lessons. He taught things to my dad that he's passed along to me, and now I get to go and learn from him myself. You can't beat that."
Here's a quick look at what else is in this issue:
Phil's Corner: In this latest edition of Phil's Corner, the BWI publisher takes a look at the young player worth keeping an eye on.
Joe Paterno: The 70s BWI's special series on Joe Paterno's 60th year at Penn State continues this issue with a breakdown of the 70s.
Men's Basketball: BWI Web editor Nate Bauer takes a look at the Nittany Lions' coming off a brutal 11-20 season.
Spring preview: Offense: BWI publisher Phil Grosz and Web editor Nate Bauer take a position-by-position look at the Nittany Lions as they go through spring practice, starting this issue with the offense.
NCAA Wrestling Tournament Recap: BWI Magazine assistant editor Andy Elder breaks down their results from the tournament.
Up Close and Personals: BWI recruiting analyst Sean Fitz goes in depth with two of the Nittany Lions' newest members, class of 2010's C.J. Olaniyan and Mike Hull.
Don't miss any of this special set of stories, plus of course, Varsity Views, Scorecard and The Tail End!