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NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Evan Hull’s zen drives his NFL Draft process

Even when others thought he couldn’t, Northwestern’s former running back has remained quietly confident that he can accomplish all of his goals, and the NFL Combine won’t change that.

Evan Hull’s favorite yoga pose is the half-pigeon.

In his preparation for the NFL Draft in April, Hull has taken on more yoga, meditation and prayer this winter to clear his head. The half-pigeon is a full-body exercise, but it especially strengthens the lower back, hips and quadriceps.

After Hull participated in the Senior Bowl in early February, kicking off the second half of his pre-draft training process, the pose likely helped him develop physically. He identified his short-area explosiveness as the aspect of his game he’s worked on most since February, and it was a skill he looked forward to showcasing at the NFL Scouting Combine’s drills and testing.

Yet, by building the hip and quad muscles Hull needs to turn a sliver of open field into an open end zone as he’s done countless times at Ryan Field, the half-pigeon does something even greater: it solidifies his core. In the face of its surrounding muscles weakening, urging it to fold, a strong core firms up the body simply because its strength dictates everything around it.

At the core of Evan Hull’s pre-draft journey — and his path through Evanston as a whole — is the calmness and optimism he displays in the face of circumstances telling him to feel the opposite.

Hull’s NFL dreams became his blueprint even before Northwestern recruited him. As late as the fall of his senior year, he only held offers from schools in the MAC or outside of the FBS entirely. Regardless, the former three-star recruit out of Maple Grove High School in Minnesota already felt there was a chance he would become a pro football player.

“It was always a dream of mine, even when I started playing football,” Hull said. “But I would say it really became a possibility toward midway through high school. When I started getting recruited, I started to play more on varsity and things started to just fall in place.”

Of course, the ‘Cats tabbed Hull as a great fit. Former running backs coach Lou Ayeni helped convince him to commit to Northwestern, and he slowly but surely climbed up the running back depth chart. In 2021, he broke out as a weapon for NU’s offense, and in 2022 he became its centerpiece. Plays like Hull’s 31-yard checkdown-turned-touchdown against a ranked Iowa team in 2021 made him feel like he was “playing a video game.”

While Hull’s fingertips held the controller in his final two years in purple and white, they were as heavy as they could be. Northwestern’s grand total of four combined wins in 2021 and 2022 overshadowed his emergence as one of the best receiving backs in the nation, and he needed to find his voice in a locker room that suffered demoralizing loss after demoralizing loss late in both seasons. As a team captain in 2022, the running back strove to become a stabilizing force for the 1-11 team’s intensity while it went three months without a win.

“I always talk about bringing that same energy, and that was a huge challenge of having a season like we did,” Hull said. “Just because however many losses you’ve had, coming back to that fully padded practice the next week, you’ve got to still bring that same energy, that same intent, focus and juice that you’ve had since Game One. If you have any chance of winning, you need to do that. That would be the biggest thing — encouraging my teammates — and I think that’s one place I was able to step up in a leadership position.”

After the season ended and Hull declared for the NFL Draft, he drew up his pre-draft plans with the same composure. Recovering from the wear and tear of the fall, he spent much of December looking for an agent, creating his training schedule and attacking its beginning in Illinois — all things he said he put off until he felt it was the right time to check them off his list.

Near the end of the month, Hull got a call. He learned he would be going to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on Feb. 4. The former Wildcat called it a “huge” invitation, as it would allow him to sharpen his pass protection against his draft class’s top-tier edge rushers and work with professional running back coaches like Jennifer King of the Washington Commanders.

From there, he flew to Boca Raton, Florida in January to prepare for the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine with GameFace Training. That’s how he spent most of the last few months, save for his week in Mobile.

By all accounts, Hull’s Senior Bowl showing was a massive success. In the practices leading up to the game, he displayed solid pass protection and was clocked on a play at 19.78 miles per hour, which led all running backs. In the game, he paced the National Team with 10 carries and 74 yards, 24 of which came on the game’s first play.

The entire experience gave Hull even more confidence in his ability. But it was the first day of practice — not the first play of the game four days later — that gave him the assurance that he could put on a show.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew I belonged there from the jump,” Hull noted. “It really just solidified in my mind when we got into those team periods, and into those one-on-one periods, I was like, ‘Okay, yeah!’ especially when I broke that first run. I was like, ‘I definitely belong here. And I’m ready to show what I can do.’”

Flash forward nearly a month after the Senior Bowl, and he’s still ready to show what he can do. Some may believe the former Northwestern star can’t raise his draft stock any higher beyond an early Day Three projection. The Senior Bowl already gave Hull a boost, and he said he still hasn’t formally met with an NFL team yet at the Combine.

The noise now screams, and those unfamiliar indoor lights at Lucas Oil glare. That phrase from the meditation Hull’s been practicing, along with his yoga and prayer, bears repeating.

“Then just think about your breathing. Don’t think about anything else.”

Hull toes the turf in a similar place to where he was just over four years ago as a high school senior at Maple Grove, trying to take another step toward realizing the dream he knew he could make happen before everyone else did. Whatever 40-yard dash time pops up on the clock, one thing’s for certain: Hull’s core will remain stable, pointing forward.

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