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Mike Hull is a lesson to the younger players on this team. It can happen. You can make this team without getting drafted. You can go from the bottom of the depth chart to an important piece of the puzzle. Yes, you can dream big.
“I think about how far I’ve come every day,” Hull says.
He’s come even further this season, his third in the league. Not only is Hull a valued member of every special teams – perhaps as good as anyone on the team — but he now finds himself playing first team middle linebacker in place of the injured Raekwon McMillan.
To understand how much this means to Mike Hull, you need to understand his journey. I remember Hull so well when two summers ago he showed up with an impressive resume from Penn State only tempered by all those experts who said the odds were stacked too high against a linebacker barely six-feet tall.
But what they couldn’t measure was desire and heart and how he approaches every practice, every play, with the same level of intensity. This young man knows only one speed: All out, all the time. That’s what got him here. That’s what will keep him here.
Every time I spoke to Hull over the last two seasons, it was just the two of us. He was always a nice story, but never a big story. Well, now things have changed. When Hull walked off the practice field Saturday, his uniform soaking wet, he was surrounded by tape recorders and cameras. Suddenly, with the loss of McMillan, he became the big story.
Hull personally sought out McMillan after his injury, took him to the side and whispered: “Hang in there, you’re going to get good through this.”
One man’s heartbreak is another man’s opportunity. Mike Hull understands this could be a defining moment in his career. But he can’t let it affect him, can’t change what he has been doing all along, something that was clearly evident as he answered the following 10 questions.
1. Two summers ago you showed up here as an undrafted rookie. Compare your mindset today with the mindset you had when you first arrived?
MH: My mindset now is to get better every day and trust the process. My rookie year I don’t know if I had that mindset. I was so worried about the playbook and everything. Now I’ve settled down and I can focus on the mental part of the game. It’s night and day now. I know the defense. I understand what the coaches are looking for. I can just go out and play.
2. What advice would you give to all the undrafted rookies trying to make this team?
MH: Go hard every single day. Don’t take off a single drill. Don’t ever feel sorry for yourself when it’s hot out here because they are not going to feel sorry for you when they cut you. Just always bring it.
3. Was there a moment or a game when you realized you can play at this level?
MH: My rookie year I thought I could play at this level. Really, though, it was the third preseason game that year against Atlanta. It was my coming out party. I think I had six tackles on one series. That’s when I knew. From there it was just a matter of getting better and better.
4. How do you react to McMillan’s season-ending injury?
MH: You hate to see that happen to anyone. He’s a good person, a good football player. I know he’ll come back from this. For me, it’s a chance to continue to prove myself. I understood when the team selected him in the second round. That’s how this league works. You have to accept it. For me now, I just want to continue to do what I’ve been doing and let that speak for itself.
5. Tell us what you did this offseason and some of the things you like to do away from football.
MH: I didn’t do anything crazy, but I do love fly fish. I went up to British Columbia and went fishing for steelhead and trout. Really enjoyed that. I love anything that has to do with the water and I love the mountains where I’m from in Pennsylvania.
6. We heard you did some MMA training with Kiko Alonso this summer and now he says you could be a pretty good fighter if you wanted it. What was that like and do you agree with Kiko?
MH: I was a big time wrestler when I was young, especially when I was little. So naturally the next step might be the MMA. But I just do it for fun. It brings me back to my roots of wrestling. It was great working out with those guys. But I really don’t think it’s in my long-term future.
7. What kind of relationship do you have with Adam Gase and is he as cool with the players as we hear?
MH: He is definitely as cool as you hear about. He is really interested in us and likes to interact on the field and off the field. He keeps it light, but knows when it’s all business. Most important to me, I think he really understands me as a player. He saw something in me and trusted in me and that’s probably why I’m here today.
8. Tell us a little bit about defensive coordinator Matt Burke. What’s he like to play for and how would you describe him?
MH: I think he’s the smartest coach I’ve ever been around. He knows defense. He knows formations. He just understands every facet of it. He treats every player individually and differently, but it’s all about getting the whole unit better.
9. How comfortable are you at middle linebacker? MH: I’m real comfortable there. I’m a natural middle linebacker.
Last year I had a lot of growing pains in the middle with communication and learning the defense. This year I feel real comfortable in that role. I’m anxious to see what I can from here.
10. Based on what you now know, how long can you play in the NFL and how long do you want to play?
MH: I’ll play until they kick me out. I still pinch myself all the time about what a great opportunity this is for me. I’m at where I’m at because I’m always pushing the boundary and setting new goals for myself. I get to play the sport I love, but you never know how long it’s going to last. That’s why I try to take advantage of every day.