Football: The end of Evan Hull’s underdog redshirt season


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Evan Hull breaks through UMass tacklers on November 16. The redshirt freshman running back will likely see no more play this season.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter


After being the most consistent weapon in Northwestern’s offense over the last two weeks, Evan Hull’s season is probably over. He’s not expected to play Saturday against Illinois, but not because he’s injured or because there are better options on the roster.

If Northwestern wants to maintain Hull’s redshirt status and keep him eligible to play during the 2023 season, he can’t appear in more than four games this season. That was always the plan for him this season as he wasn’t even expected to play much at all.

But then the four running backs ahead of him on the depth chart faced injuries and ball-security issues, so Hull leapfrogged all the way up to the first string for the Wildcats’ games against Massachusetts and Minnesota.

In two games as a starter, all he did was rush for 271 yards.

The Cats (2-9, 0-8 Big Ten) will be without him for their rivalry game against the Fighting Illini (6-5, 4-4), so NU will be missing the most productive running back the team has had all season.

While he wants to play for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, Hull said he’s alright with being redshirted instead.

“I love it,” Hull said. “It’s a great opportunity to get a great feel for the game and still not have to burn a whole season. I’m all for it.”

As he became such a major part of NU’s offense in his true freshman season, Hull is one of the biggest underdog stories in the Big Ten. Twelve months ago, as a senior in high school, his only offers were from MAC and FCS schools. He took official visits to Ball State and South Dakota State, but he waited out for a better offer.

Hull really hoped it would come from coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Cats. He built a strong relationship with running backs coach Lou Ayeni when he was still on the coaching staff at Iowa State, and when Ayeni took a job at NU in January 2018, he told the coaches about the running back from Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Hull finally received on offer from the Cats in January 2019, after weeks of constant conversation with the coaches. His recruitment picked up around the start of the new year, and once NU came forward with an offer on Jan. 28, Hull accepted it right away.

After Hull came to Evanston over the summer, it didn’t take long for Fitzgerald to realize he’d found someone who works as hard as anyone on the roster.

“I’m in (the weight room) getting my skinny-fat workout in, and there’s Evan doing an extra hip workout on his own and doing different flexor work,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s a guy who’s a little bit older than his freshman year of eligibility. I’ve just been really impressed with his work ethic, and he’s got a really bring future for us.”

Hull entered the rotation at running back for the Cats’ game against Nebraska on Oct 5. Sophomore running back Isaiah Bowser and junior running back Jesse Brown were out with injuries, and on the Wednesday before the game, Ayeni told Hull to prepare like he was going to play. He was ready, but he only got 10 yards on seven carries.

He went over a month before seeing the field again. In Hull’s return against Purdue on November 9, he only touched the ball once. But freshman running back Drake Anderson had an issue with fumbles and only ran for 51 yards on 16 carries against the Boilermakers. Ayeni re-opened the competition at first-string running back, and Hull took advantage of the opportunity.

“I was coming at it with an intensity and being confident in everything I do,” Hull said. “I needed that energy that I bring seen by my teammates, see me bringing that juice.”

Hull brought the juice in his first week as a starter, rushing for 220 yards and four touchdowns against the Minutemen. He hadn’t even told his parents that he would be starting, so they were surprised to see Hull run the ball as often and as effectively as he did. Hull followed up on that game by rushing 14 times against Minnesota and blocking efficiently for sophomore quarterback Andrew Marty.

Hull was taken off the depth chart following the game against the Golden Gophers, putting Anderson back at first string. Even though Hull’s season is most likely over, Fitzgerald said he laid a strong foundation for the rest of his career, which will now last an extra season.

“These experiences that he’s had hopefully will not only be a big boost of confidence for him,” Fitzgerald said. “But (he’ll) also look at it from a standpoint of what I’m doing, the extra work, is working.”

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