Nyeem Wartman decided before the start of Penn State's season that he wanted to be more than just a good linebacker. He thought someone with his raw talent and speed and hitting ability needed help putting it all together to perhaps join the conversation about the program's succession of great linebackers.
He knew just where to turn.
Hello, Mike Hull.
Penn State's senior leader, the Big Ten linebacker of the year and a second-team all-American, was a good person to follow. He assisted in such a way that Hull now believes Wartman is going to be "the next guy for us."
"I just learned how to be mature, just watching the way he goes about football and the way he goes about working out," Wartman said Monday night after the Nittany Lions arrived in New York to continue preparations for the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
"Everything he does, he shows a level of maturity. That's something I struggled with when I was younger, just being mature. Everything he does is nonstop intensity, just go, go, go. He never takes a play off. That's one thing I've never seen Mike Hull do and that's one thing I never expect to do.
"Learning from him, that's making me a better player because I see him doing it. I'm like, 'That's exactly what I want to do. That's exactly how I want to play.' "
In the eyes of the 6-foot-1, 238-pound Wartman, this emerging maturity helps him with focus and confidence during his week of practices "with no second-guessing myself," and prepares him well for the next game.
"He's really mature, really smart," Hull said. "You don't realize how big of an impact he actually makes on the game sometimes. He's real powerful. He plugs gaps. Every time he's in a play, he's driving the pile back."
Wartman, who was born and raised in Philadelphia until he moved upstate near Scranton when he was 13, finished the regular season with 64 tackles. Although the number seemed to pale in comparison to Hull's 134 tackles, it still was good enough for second on a defense that ranks first in FBS in rushing yards allowed and second in total yards.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said that if Hull was "an A-plus on football IQ, Nyeem is right there with him."
"Nyeem gets it," Shoop said. "He understands how his job fits into the team concept. He played exceptionally well. He made big play after big play after big play. He's a true, really good box linebacker. He understands where everybody is supposed to be all the time."
That pretty much describes Hull's role this season after he moved over to middle linebacker from the outside. Shoop has given no indication that Wartman will move to the middle next season. But Wartman said he is ready for a leadership role.
"If it happens to be me, yes, I'm ready to do whatever it takes," Wartman said. "I want to continue on the defense that we've had this year. We have a lot of guys returning and I know that we can still continue to be good on defense. So I'm ready."
First, however, comes the season finale against a Boston College offense that has been effective running the football. Simply put, a Penn State victory means a winning season and momentum going into the offseason.
"To end on a high note would be tremendous," Wartman said.
Post-Hull Era at Penn State
Mike Hull is the latest member of Penn State's "Linebacker U" to receive all-American honors. While Hull prepares for his final collegiate game in the Pinstripe Bowl, here's a list of candidates striving to become the Nittany Lions' next great linebacker:
Year of football eligibility as of 2014 season.
*NYEEM WARTMAN, 6-1, 238, redshirt sophomore: He had 64 tackles and is known for some jarring hits.
*BRANDON BELL, 6-1, 228, sophomore: The former Oakcrest High star improved steadily at strongside linebacker but missed the last two games with an injury.
JASON CABINDA, 6-1, 249, freshman: He impressed with eight tackles in the first game of his Penn State career while replacing the injured Wartman.
VON WALKER, 5-11, 213, sophomore: Formerly a Lions running back, he's been good on special teams.
GARY WOOTEN, 6-2, 238, redshirt sophomore: Another important element on special teams, he played this season behind Hull, who rarely missed a snap.
KOA FARMER, 6-1, 210, freshman: He's moving from safety and has impressed with his speed and instincts.
TROY REEDER, 6-1, 245, freshman: He is one of the stronger players at linebacker for the Lions.
BEN KLINE, 6-2, 243, redshirt junior: He missed the season with a reported Achilles tendon injury. He has an ideal combination of aggressiveness and intelligence. -Joe Juliano EndText