After learning of the crushing sanctions the NCAA levied against Penn State in July 2012, linebacker Mike Hull was as good as gone, "really close" to packing up, heading home to Western Pennsylvania and enrolling at Pittsburgh, he said.
"I basically was about to tell Coach [Bill] O'Brien that I wasn't coming back, and then I figured I'd sleep on it," Hull recalled earlier this season. "My roommates kind of talked me into staying and so did [Michael] Mauti. So I came back and I was fully invested for that [preseason] camp. No regrets."
It has been no regrets and much joy for the members of Nittany Nation who have watched Hull carry the "Linebacker U" baton and become the leader of a defense that was one of the nation's best this season. He recorded a mind-blowing 134 tackles in 12 games, won Big Ten linebacker of the year honors and earned mention on several all-American teams.
But his on-field accomplishments won't be the sole reason his Nittany Lions coaches and teammates will miss him after Hull plays his final game in the blue and white at Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College at Yankee Stadium.
Hull has admirably handled the constant change at Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, the firing of longtime coach Joe Paterno and NCAA sanctions threw the program into disarray. Counting interim coaches, Hull's career has spanned five head coaches. He has played for a different defensive coordinator in each of his four seasons.
James Franklin grew to appreciate Hull right away, noting how he worked to help tear down the wall that existed in the early months between the players and yet another new head coach. And he has spoken more than a few times about the "man-crush" he has on Hull.
"I love Mike Hull," he said after last month's win over Temple. "I love the guy and his leadership. He's one of the most high-production, low-maintenance guys off the field that I've ever been around. He's everything you want. He's blue-collar, hard-nosed, athletic, humble, appreciative . . . I could go on and on about how we feel about him."
Franklin was downright shocked after learning the committee that selects the Butkus Award winner given to the nation's best linebacker left Hull off a list of 15 semifinalists, a snub that came days after Hull recorded 19 tackles in the double-overtime thriller against Ohio State.
"I've been around," the coach said, "and I'm telling you there's not too many guys like this out there - and that's in college or the NFL. He's a special player."
In his first year as a middle linebacker, the 6-foot, 235-pound Hull has stood out on the field, thanks to a combination of instincts, quickness and toughness. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has said that "every week I can show 10 clips of Mike Hull making plays."
Hull will try to make his 48th and final career game at Penn State as good against quarterback Tyler Murphy and Boston College's rushing attack, one of the best in the nation, while attempting to keep his thoughts about his last game out of his mind until after the final gun.
"It's going to be kind of a weird feeling because this has been home for the last five years," he said. "Despite everything that's gone on here, we [seniors] just really feel fortunate and blessed that we've been able to make it this far, keep the program where it's at. We feel a sense of pride that we were able to keep the program together for the future."
"It's been a great journey and I've been fortunate to get through it with some of my best friends."