Penn State’s Hull leaves walk-on days behind

Josh Hull never has lacked confidence, as illustrated by his decision to enroll at Penn State and walk on as a linebacker at a university noted for finding the best linebackers in the country.
When Hull, then just 205 pounds, informed coaches at the lower-classification schools that were recruiting him of his choice, a number were flabbergasted.
“Some coaches thought he was overreaching,” said Martin Tobias, Hull’s coach at Penns Valley High School, 25 miles from State College. “One coach told him, ‘If you go to Penn State, you’ll never see the field in your four years there.’"
Hull, however, believed that work ethic and attitude, combined with ability and, yes, confidence, would take him a long way. He proved to be correct.
The 6-foot-2, 236-pound senior, who received a scholarship before the start of last season and has started 18 consecutive games at middle linebacker, has followed in the school’s “Linebacker U” tradition. He is the team’s leading tackler and its on-field leader.
Hull hasn’t been surprised by anything he has achieved in his Penn State career, and is not surprised by what he has done this season, either.
“Absolutely not,” he said yesterday. “My main goal coming into this season was to start out where I left off last year. I wanted to keep improving every game. Experience is important. I started 13 games last year, and having that experience under my belt has paid large dividends.”
Hull has filled in the leadership gap resulting from a sprained knee that will force all-American Sean Lee to miss his third straight game Saturday. He also has been the glue in an ever-changing lineup amid injuries at linebacker to Lee, Navorro Bowman, and Nathan Stupar.
“We’ve been lacking a vocal leader on the field with Sean out,” Hull said. “So in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been more vocal than I have been. I usually let my play speak for itself, but now I’m trying to keep the defense going and make sure we get better every week.”
Tobias had seen the confidence and self-motivation from the moment Hull entered Penns Valley as a seventh grader. He knew that would put the player on good footing when he got to Penn State, but he had some reservations.
“I wondered what kind of opportunity he’d be given,” Tobias said. “There’s a stigma attached to walk-on. If a kid walks on, that means he’s not as good as the scholarship athletes. I think he was frustrated his first two or three years there.”
But Hull, who redshirted his first year, never backed off from the high expectations he had for himself, including a spot in the starting lineup.
“I set goals each year,” he said. “My first year, I exceeded my goal because I was playing on special teams. After that, each year I ended up in the place that I wanted to be.”
There were rough patches, one of them last season. Hull had just 21 tackles in the first five games. But coach Joe Paterno stuck with him, and he finished the season with 75 stops, second on the team.
This season, Hull has been in on 52 tackles, more than twice the number of the next regular. That has helped the defense of the 14th-ranked Nittany Lions (4-1), which has allowed just five touchdowns and ranks seventh nationally in fewest points allowed and 11th against the rush.
“You’re thrust into the forefront when you’re a linebacker at Penn State,” Hull said. “You have the ability to step into situations and be a leader. The players the coaches recruit to come to Penn State to play linebacker have the right character and the right traits.”
Hull has those same qualities.
He was a walk-on who’s going to be a four-year letter-winner and a two-year starter,” Tobias said. “How many players can say that?”