Steve Hull plays best game of offensive career despite loss

By By: Stephen Bourbon

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A year ago, Steve Hull was a safety that couldn’t stay on the field with various injuries.

Now, Hull has transformed into the Illinois football team’s deep-threat wide receiver after switching sides of the ball during spring practice.

Early in the season, it looked as though the switch was more of an impact on paper than on the field. Hull caught seven passes in the Illini’s first five games, and didn’t record a catch in two of them.

Starting with a loss at home to Wisconsin, Hull finally made his mark on the field with a breakout game — six catches for 105 yards. But again, Hull was nicked up with an injury against the Badgers and sat out most of the following week against Michigan State.

As he’s done so many times in the past, though, Hull bounced back from injury the following week with another six-catch effort against Penn State.

Saturday against Indiana, Hull took another leap. The senior recorded the best game of his offensive career with new career highs of nine catches, 224 yards and two touchdowns. His two touchdown catches of 60 and 54 yards lit up the scoreboard for the Illini in the 52-35 loss, but the effort ultimately wasn’t enough to break a 19-game conference losing streak.

“Unbelievable,” head coach Tim Beckman said. “I think Steve made some plays that were phenomenal in my opinion. When we needed to make a play, Steve Hull was there to help us make that play.”

His 224 yards was the second-most in school history and the first 200-plus receiving game for an Illini player since A.J. Jenkins in 2011, who set the school record with 268 yards.

For the senior Hull, however, the way he’ll remember the game was by the score: 52-35 in favor of the Hoosiers. After the game, Hull tweeted his frustrations.

“I would trade all my personal stats from today in for a Win if I could. #stillfighting #wontgiveup.”

In his last season with the Illini, the team fell to 3-6, 0-5 in conference play. With Ohio State looming next on the schedule, a Buckeyes team that hasn’t lost since Jan. 2, 2012, any hopes of a bowl game seem slim.

“I’m frustrated right now,” Hull said. “This game hurts a lot because at the end of the day, our main goal is to win the Big Ten. But now we focus on going to a bowl game and being bowl eligible.”

To become bowl eligible, Illinois must win its three remaining games, versus Ohio State, at Purdue and versus Northwestern.

After losing fellow senior Ryan Lankford to a season-ending shoulder injury two weeks ago, the burden of production at wide receiver falls to Hull and Spencer Harris. Although he’s been playing the position for less than a calendar year, Hull said he knows it’s his responsibility to put up numbers — a job that he’s fulfilled as Hull leads the team in yards and touchdowns over the past two contests.

“I feel like I did my job,” Hull said. “I’m not one to toot my own horn and say I was doing great, but it’s my job to perform.”

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.