At 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, T.C. Hull is hardly a chiseled hulk, but he’s nonetheless much sturdier than he was last year as a scrawny sophomore.
“As a sophomore, sometimes I was a little intimidated by going at some of the bigger defenders,” Hull said. “This year, I thought I could go at anybody, and beat anybody in the whole state.”
Hull’s season backed up that bravado. Despite a slow start to the fall while mending an ankle injury, the St. Charles East junior forward piled high 31 goals as the Saints enjoyed a monster season. Hull, the area’s leading scorer, is the Kane County Chronicle Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
East coach Paul Jennison said Hull already was fast and highly skilled last year, saying “it’s just a matter of he caught up with some of the guys that were overpowering him.”
“The kid has got intangibles,” Jennison said. “It’s very difficult to coach because a lot of it is his instincts, his movement off the ball, and the key thing is his natural finishing, which is just second to none. He’s the best kid I’ve ever seen in front of the goal.”
Hull’s scoring was impressive in all ways – quality, quantity and by often coming in crucial situations.
The Saints were fighting for the Upstate Eight Conference River championship during a late-season match at Larkin when Hull wowed the entire stadium – and those who would later watch the highlight on YouTube – by converting an acrobatic, bicycle kick, go-ahead goal with four minutes left in the match.
East went on to beat Larkin, 3-1, and won the conference championship after dominating St. Charles North in its conference finale.
“We always try them in practice,” Hull said of the bicycle kick, which he considers the best tally of his season. “Sometimes they work and sometimes it doesn’t. It set up perfectly for me so I thought I’d try it and it ended up going in, so I was so excited. You always dream of scoring a goal like that, especially with so little time left, so that was huge.”
Hull continued his scoring binge well into the postseason, highlighted by scoring the first three goals as the Saints had an easier time with Larkin in a rematch in the 3A York Sectional championship match.
Fellow junior Jake Sterling, one of Hull’s closest friends on the Saints and in the Campton United club program, often defends Hull during practices. Even when Sterling correctly anticipated what move might be coming, Hull often slithers past, so Sterling can sympathize with opposing defenders who aren’t as attuned to Hull’s game.
“I think the thing that gets players the most that don’t know him is not only is he quick with the ball but he keeps the ball so tight to him and he knows how to handle it so well,” Sterling said. “I think that’s what beats players.”
Hull, still uncommitted but drawing college recruiting attention, has an ambitious slate of tournaments and showcases in the months ahead, including continued work through the Olympic Development program.
Enjoying so much personal success during a breakthrough, 20-win year for East, Hull said the season was a blast.
Most of it, anyway. He missed almost all of the first five games while healing a rolled ankle.
“Your ankle is a big part of [soccer], not only kicking but running and all the other stuff,” Hull said. “It’s just hard, especially in a sport when you’re always running, no matter what. A lot of different things can happen with people stepping on you, getting caught up when you’re turning ... things happen when you’re not ready for them.”
Once he healed, few opponents were ready for Hull.