Cincinnati native Steve Hull doesn’t have a favorite spot in his hometown. Grew up more of a Bob Huggins fan instead of following Bearcats football. Which makes sense. Cincinnati was more known for its rankings in basketball than football at the time. But Hull does respect, from afar, the progress Cincinnati has made on the football field. He’ll try to give Illinois its first win against the Bearcats (this is only the second meeting between the two schools). Before the wide receiver ran a route today, he sat down to discuss his hometown, his Reds and his position switch this past offseason.
You nervous about the Reds’ chances this October?
I’m optimistic, but I’m prepared for what’s inevitable I feel like.
That they’re going to lose. They just always find some way. They start out hot, then they go cold, then they get better and it just kind of fizzles out.
How frustrating is that?
I’m not extremely devoted to my fanship, but it is a little frustrating. You hear guys talking in our locker room about their teams being good, but it’s not that bad.
What do you like about Cincinnati?
I grew up in Blue Ash, Ohio, which is about 13 miles north of the city. Downtown Cincinnati is a real nice area. You’ve got to be careful where you step sometimes, but it’s a nice area overall.
What’s your go-to spot in Cincinnati?
I don’t really have one of those. I’m not a huge hit-the-scene kind of guy. I’m more of a low-key kind of guy.
What led you to Illinois?
What really attracted me to Illinois was the coaching staff that was here and the family environment I felt when I was here. The conference is a big thing as well. The academics are second to none as far as any other schools I was looking at, and it was close enough to where my family could still get to any road game. I was well removed from where I was away from home, but not too far away from home.
What was it like going through the coaching change at Illinois?
To be honest, it really wasn’t that bad. I made a joke with a bunch of guys on the team that every Camp Rantoul I’ve been to, which I’ve had five of them, I’ve had a new experience, whether that’s a new position or a new coach. Everybody always asks me that question, but at the end of the day, we’re going to play football regardless. Every coach that I’ve had has been great. I’ve had no rifts with anyone, and adapting to Coach Beckman and his style was very easy because he’s a very good coach.
What was the perception of Cincinnati football when you were growing up?
We always thought of them as a basketball school when they had Kenyon Martin, Melvin Levett and guys like that. I was a huge fan, but we never really saw them as a prominent football team. It seemed like when Brian Kelly was there and I was being recruited by them when I was in high school is when they started turning the page, and basketball actually seemed like it was dropping a bit. Football picked up a big deal. They’ve built a program now where they’re a very tough competitor in their conference and nationally ranked.
I’m assuming it was a weird feeling lining up at receiver in the opener.
Yeah, it was a little bit different. It was much different, but it felt really good. I joked around with Nate (Scheelhaase), Miles (Osei) and (Ryan) Lankford last Sunday when we went to church. At church they asked how I was feeling because Sunday was always rough for me because I was waking up real stiff and sore. It was the first time in years I woke up with a big smile on my face. I felt good. I felt nimble. I didn’t know what to do with myself, but it felt really good to be out there and felt comfortable.
Scheelhaase targeted you twice against Southern Illinois and you caught both passes. How nice was that?
It was good. I’m not a guy that’s going to be begging for the ball. I like seeing the team successful, and we were finding great success through Lankford and (Josh) Ferguson throughout the game. My number was called, and I was happy to make plays. It definitely felt good getting the ball in my hands.
On the 55-yard reception you had against Southern Illinois, were you thinking, “Don’t drop it.”
Never that (laughs). My dad always told me don’t think of what you don’t want to happen. We kind of had the game plan set up to where we knew that route was going to be open, and we practiced it all week. When I ran it, the safety bit as expected. I just turned, ran and saw the ball in the air. I was thinking, “This is it. I’ve got to make the play and make the most of it.”
Can you list the injuries you’ve had at Illinois?
I don’t know if I can or not (laughs). Really, it’s not that lengthy. It’s mainly been the same thing repeatedly. It was my right shoulder. In high school, it was a different world. I wasn’t hitting 230-pound running backs every down, and I definitely wasn’t taking on 350-pound linemen. I’d have some stiffness in my neck, but really it was just the same shoulder that was plaguing me. The first time it happened was in camp, and we weren’t sure what the heck it was. I had a huge divot in my bicep, and I didn’t know what it was. It didn’t really hurt. It was just kind of weak. I talked to the trainers, and we padded it up, and we didn’t think anything of it. We went through the whole 2011 season and played the whole year with it. We had no idea what was going on, and all through winter conditioning and spring ball (last year) it was doing it again. That’s when we found out that my shoulder was popped out of place, so we had to take some measures to fix that.
And your hamstring? What’s the deal with that?
That thing kind of got blown out of proportion a little bit. It was a hamstring, but it was just tight. I had a bunch of people calling me saying, “Man, you can’t stay healthy.” I’m like, I just have a tight hamstring. It’s a totally different world going from backpedaling and playing as a Cover-2 safety as opposed to sprinting 15- to 30-yard routes every snap. I just wasn’t really used to it yet, and it was kind of precautionary to make sure I didn’t blow my hamstring.
Is the chili that good in Cincinnati?
The chili is great in Cincinnati. Skyline Chili is where it’s at. Don’t go to Gold Star Chili because Gold Star isn’t as good as Skyline, but Skyline is very good. I’ve taken a few teammates back home, and I’ve forced them to try it. There’s only been one person that liked it, and that was Justin Lattimore. I took my girlfriend back home, and she didn’t like it. I don’t know what it is. Maybe when you just grow up on it, it’s so good to you.
You friends with anyone on Cincinnati’s team?
Not this week. There’s a lot of guys on their team that I knew, be it through camps or rival high schools, but I’m trying my best to remove that from my thoughts and treat it as any other game.
You getting any extra ticket requests?
Quite a bit. I usually get around six people to come to each of my games, and right now I’m up to between 20-25, so it’s quite a few more.
You graduate in December. What’s the future hold for you once you’re done playing at Illinois?
I have a couple things in mind. Obviously, I want to try to play football outside of college, and if that doesn’t pan out, then I was thinking about coaching. I have a lot of family that’s in law enforcement, so ideally I was thinking of getting into law school and become a corporate lawyer. There’s a few plans.
Who’s your dream date?
I’ve been asked that four years. It’s always been Carrie Underwood. I don’t know why. I’m dating my girlfriend, and we will be together two years in September, and it’s been good being with her, so I haven’t really thought about anyone else, to be honest.
A night on the town with Carrie Underwood or four touchdowns against Cincinnati?
A win against Cincinnati. That’d be nice.