The praise couldn’t be higher from a player who couldn’t have been better.

This was Mike Hull. A linebacker in the pantheon of great linebackers at Penn State. He is in the lineage. Paul Posluszny led to Dan Connor. Dan Connor led to Sean Lee. Sean Lee led to Navorro Bowman. And Navorro Bowman led to Hull. It’s a line of greatness that has helped define a new era of defense at the school that fancies itself Linebacker U.

Moments after he registered 13 more tackles in what would be his final game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Hull knew he had to hand off the baton. He had to lead to somebody, after all. Looking around Beaver Stadium as the Nittany Lions defense lasted as long as it could, pounding the vaunted Michigan State running game, Hull had his candidate.

With every hit Nyeem Wartman put on running back Jeremy

Langford and quarterback Connor Cook, it became clear.

“He’s going to be the next guy for us,” Hull said.

That’s the kind of season the redshirt sophomore from Valley View had for the Nittany Lions. He piled up 64 tackles, he picked off a pass, and he arguably was Penn State’s best pass rusher from the linebacker position. But for Wartman, gaining Hull’s respect didn’t happen overnight.

Nor did it happen without a measure of design.

Wartman is on the record: He didn’t play well in 2013. He was handed the starting position, he said. In hindsight, he said he may not have done enough to earn that job. The result was an up-and-down season in which he battled nagging injuries and learned a system from then-defensive coordinator John Butler that wouldn’t be in place for very long.

The offseason came, and so did a new coaching staff. If Wartman was indeed handed a job by default last season, he knew there was no guarantee he would again in 2014. Not with a new linebackers coach, Brent Pry, to impress.

So, in order to impress Pry and head coach James Franklin, Wartman decided he better impress someone who set the standard of excellence he wanted to achieve: Mike Hull.

“I know when it came to following someone...Mike Hull, that was the guy,” Wartman said. “I am not going to lie, he is a role model for me.”

So, for months out of the coaching staff’s eyes, if there was a group workout and Hull was going to be there, Wartman would be there, too.

When the coaching staff assembled groups to get together and workout or run, Wartman found a way to run in Hull’s group.

Where there was Hull, there was Wartman.

“I knew if I saw him out there busting it, I would bust it, too,” Wartman said. “I wanted to beat him. I knew I wasn’t going to. But in my mind, I wanted to beat him.”

Hull talked about Wartman’s work ethic, but he also described him in a way that maybe Hull had never been described himself, as a big, physical linebacker who can go sideline-to-sideline like the pros can. A guy who has the physical attributes to be great, with a work ethic to match.

That’s all high praise to Wartman, especially considering the source.

They have one more game to play together, in whatever bowl Penn State winds up attending, and after that, Hull is gone. His career, as historic as it has been, will be a memory. And the lineage will need to be continued.

If the man he looks up to as a role model is the one who says Wartman is “next,” the man who can continue the tradition at Linebacker U, Wartman says he has to believe it. Because believing in what Mike Hull has meant has gotten him on the road to where he wants to be.

“That means a lot, because I respect Mike totally,” Wartman said. “I see what he does out there, the way he plays, the intensity he plays with, the way he works out. Ever since I came here, Mike Hull has always been that guy who has worked hard. As I have grown, he has kind of molded me to work harder.

“I know what I have to do. I have to be a leader, just like him.”

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