CHAMPAIGN — The “Steve Hull Experience” has been recognized by the Big Ten Conference.
Hull, who moved to wide receiver from safety for his senior year, has emerged as one of the top deep-threat receivers in the nation in the second half of this college football season. On Monday he was named Big Ten “Offensive Player of the Week” for his performance in the 20-16 victory over Purdue, a game that ended Illinois’ 20-game conference losing streak.
Hull had a career-high 10 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns, his third straight 100-yard receiving game and fourth in the last five games.
For the season, Hull has 46 catches for a team-high 838 yards and six touchdowns with most of the damage coming in the last few weeks.
In the last three games, Hull has registered 27 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns, making him the nation’s most prolific receiver by yards during that span.
“He’s done a great job, hasn’t he,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said Monday. “He has really stepped up when injuries forced us to look for help at that position.”
Hull arrived at Illinois as a wide receiver when he was recruited out of Sycamore High School in Cincinnati. He redshirted the 2009 season while working out with the offense, but needs on the defensive side of the ball necessitated a shift to safety two weeks before the 2010 season opener.
Safety is where Hull played for three seasons until a shoulder injury last year limited him. He missed the final four games of the season and it was a recommended by team doctors that Hull find a position other than safety to protect his fragile shoulder.
So he switched back to offense and became a more prominent part of the passing attack when main deep threat Ryan Lankford suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on Oct. 26 against Michigan State.
Since then he has been quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s favorite target.
Even though most of his statistics have been compiled in the latter part of the season, Hull ranks fifth in the Big Ten in receiving (76.2 yards per game). And he’s tied for fifth nationally with four catches for 50 yards or more.
Hull is one of 15 seniors who will play their final college football game Saturday when Illinois plays host to Northwestern (2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
Joining him in a pre-game ceremony are fellow seniors Scheelhaase, Jonathan Brown, Jake Feldmeyer, Nick Forzley, Spencer Harris, Brad Janitz, Tim Kynard, Lankford, Corey Lewis, Ben Mathis, Miles Osei, Daniel Quintana, Tim Russell and Evan Wilson.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Speaking of Feldmeyer, the fifth-year senior from Centerville, Ohio is listed as the starting center Saturday. That would be his first start this season.
Head coach Tim Beckman said Feldmeyer could have decided not to return to the team for this season, but after a meeting with the coach he decided he wanted to still be a member of the team.
“He’s a true team player,” Beckman said. “He came to us in the spring. He has already graduated, and he asked, ‘Coach, do you see me being involved in the team much this season?’
“I said he’d have a great opportunity to compete and he decided to come back for the team. I told him we needed his senior leadership and that’s what he’s done.”
WORKING WITH WASHINGTON
Beckman said the Illini football program has reached out to members of the Washington High School football team, inviting them to be their guests at Saturday’s game.
Washington was a community devastated in the Nov. 17 tornadoes that swept through portions of Central Illinois.
“We’re trying to get them involved in the game and we’re going through that process with the NCAA,” Beckman said. “We want to get those players over here, and we’re excited about getting that done.”
DEFENSE STEPS UP
Aside from a few big plays — which Beckman said must still be corrected — Illinois’ defense stood strong in the second half of the victory over Purdue.
The Boilermakers’ offense did not score in the half and had just one first down until the final drive, which ended when Illini cornerback V’Angelo Bentley intercepted a pass.
“They had four plays that equaled 144 yards,” Beckman said. Purdue gained 283 for the game. “Those are big plays, and we can’t give those up, but you look at the other 50 plays then ran and they gained 139 yards.”
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks called the second-half performance, “our best of the season.”
Matt Sinclair, a former Illini linebacker and current assistant director of player personnel and relations on Beckman’s staff, was arrested over the weekend.
Sinclair was arrested for pointing an unloaded gun at another vehicle while driving on I-74 in Champaign-Urbana with other football staff members. Sinclair had been with the Illini team in West Lafayette, Ind., for the team’s victory over Purdue earlier in the day.
Sinclair was found in possession of a gun, a magazine loaded with ammunition and brass knuckles. He told police he needed them for protection on his trip to West Lafayette.
Beckman released this statement: “We’re aware of the current situation concerning staff member Matt Sinclair. He clearly had a lapse in judgment after returning to Champaign-Urbana on Saturday. He is in the early stages of the legal process. We’re still gathering all the information about the incident and I don’t intend to comment further at this time.”
The 31-year-old St. Louis native played at Illinois from 2001-2004, including three seasons as a starting linebacker. He then played several seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins.