Mike Hull is an optimist.
Even dating back to last season, dealing with a knee injury suffered in the season opener, the Penn State senior linebacker thought he’d be fine to play at his usual, aggressive level in the third game against UCF.
He wasn’t. He knew right away when he stepped on the field. Still, he figured he could make an impact for what turned out to be an inconsistent defense that stopped the run at times but was consistently gouged by big plays and besieged by leaky secondary play. The Nittany Lions ranked 49th in total defense and 74th in passing defense.
Now that he’s healthy, Hull is facing a lot of the same questions he and friend Glenn Carson did last season about the team’s lack of experienced linebackers.
“Even last year, me and Carson were pretty tight and he told me he felt an obligation to make this defense the best that it could be every single week and that’s kind of how I feel,” Hull said.
Hull will play in the middle this season with sophomore’s Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell possibly flanking him. Afterall, they’re the only two other linebackers on the roster with any starting experience. Wartman has eight starts. Bell has one.
While Hull is hopeful some young players will step up — he’s mentioned Gary Wooten as a player who came on strong in the spring — he’s counting on carrying much of the defensive load. So far, Hull has done exactly that. He’s met multiple times with new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop this offseason to get a head start on learning Shoop’s systems. Hull has also taken the responsibility of helping quarterback Christian Hackenberg organize player-led 7-on-7 workouts.
“When Mike Hull talks, guys listen,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
“Spider” Caldwell recovering
after heart attack, stroke
Penn State’s longtime former equipment manager Brad “Spider” Caldwell is resting at home and is in good spirits after suffering a heart attack followed by a stroke last week, according to friends.
Caldwell’s close friend and former Penn State kicker Skip Dreibelbis told the Centre Daily Times that Caldwell emailed him on Friday to alert him he had a heart attack last week and then suffered a stroke during a procedure to put a stent in his heart. As a result, Caldwell has lost the peripheral vision in his right eye. Caldwell told Dreibelbis that his doctors expect him to regain his vision and to make a full recovery.
Dreibelbis posted on his Facebook account on Tuesday a note for Penn State fans, former players and Caldwell’s friends to keep Caldwell in their thoughts and prayers. Dreibelbis, who also runs the Forever Lions Facebook account said those who want to send well wishes to Caldwell can do so using social media and Dreibelbis will pass them along.
“Everybody loves him,” Dreibelbis said. “When he told me that was okay to pass along, I passed it along.”
Caldwell retired from Penn State after spending 31 years with the Nittany Lion football team — most of them as Penn State’s respected and beloved equipment outfitter. He and his wife Karen have a vacation home in Vermont where Caldwell accepted a job as Activities Director for Fair Haven Union High School.
Meanwhile, Franklin said he was on the phone early Tuesday morning trying to pin down Caldwell’s replacement. Penn State begins its season on Aug. 30 in Ireland against UCF.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to replace a guy like Spider and what he meant to the program from a personality standpoint,” Franklin said. “I met Spider for the first time and I wanted to hug him. The first five minutes you spend with Spider you want to hug him. That’s who he is. ... You’re not going to replace that.”
Franklin said his hope — with Caldwell’s approval — is to fly the new equipment manager out to Vermont to meet Caldwell or fly Caldwell in to State College to get the new equipment manager started.
As Dreibelbis posted his note online after Franklin’s availability with the media, it was not clear if Frankin knew of Caldwell’s situation. A Penn State spokesman did not return a call for comment.
Ficken ready for
Maybe Sam Ficken could have been the subject of Adam Sandler’s 1997 comedy song, “The Lonesome Kicker”?
The Penn State senior specialist was the lone kicker to attend Big Ten Media Days. But while he was not joined by any of his Big Ten counterparts, Ficken had plenty of company once Day 2’s roundtable sessions began where he was at times swarmed by reporters from other teams. Many asked him about his early-career struggles — notably his notorious performance against Virginia in 2012 when Ficken missed four field goals and an extra point in a game Penn State lost 17-16.
Most of the time, Ficken laughed and insisted it made him a much better player. This summer he’s worked on his distance albeit without the challenge of a line of players in front of him.
“Just screwing around, I made a 65-yarder (on Saturday),” Ficken said. “The longest ever is 70, obviously wind-aided. The longest with the line is 63. Obviously the long field goals are fun but you don’t get may opportunities to hit those, though.”
Ficken’s career long is 54 yards that he drilled in the rain against Kent State last season.
Franklin a fan of wrestlers, too
Baseball was Franklin’s first love. Basketball was an interest. Football became his life.
When he arrived at Penn State in January, Franklin got an up-close look at a different sport not entirely unfamiliar to him. He attended Rec Hall numerous times to watch the Penn State wrestling teams’ duals as a way of getting out into the community. But Franklin wasn’t there just to promote himself. Most of the time his eyes were glued to the mat.
“I love wrestlers for o-linemen and d-linemen,” Franklin said. “Because their core strength, their hands — let’s be honest, offensive linemen hold. That’s what they do. But there’s a way to hold within the rules and there’s a way to hold outside of the rules. ... Being able to do that as a wrestler and having that hand strength and being able to control somebody, is important.”
Since his arrival, Franklin’s developed a good relationship with Nittany Lion wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, and the two hit it off on the Coaches Caravan this spring.
But it didn’t take Franklin coming to Penn State for him to develop an appreciation for the sport. He said he wrestled during his grade school days, but eventually gave it up.
“I love that you go out there and there’s nothing but you and that singlet and you’re not hiding anything,” Franklin said. “And it’s you and that guy. There’s no — the corner getting beat and on national television he turns around and looks at the safety — and I know the safety had nothing to do with that coverage. When you’re a wrestler there’s none of that.”