May 5, 2014
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The tall, skinny thrower from backwoods Indiana is filling out. He has a Drake Relays championship and a school record to prove it.
University of Iowa junior Gabe Hull -- all 6-feet, 8-inches of him -- added to his resume April 26 by winning the men's discus throw at the Drake Relays with a toss of 197 feet. The last Hawkeye to accomplish that feat was Robert Mitchell in 1928. At Saturday's Musco Twilight XV, he set the school discus record at 207-1.
Until recently, holding late leads in a throw ring was a source of frustration.
At the 2013 Big Ten Championships, Hull led after five of six throws, but finished third behind Antonio James of Michigan State and Chad Wright of Nebraska. Earlier that season he led the Drake Relays until the final attempt when Northern Iowa's Jordan Williams bettered him by two centimeters.
"I think Gabe felt that sense of loss last year where he was winning the meet and then Williams essentially captured the flag," UI throws coach Scott Cappos said. "(Williams) beat him to it and Gabe didn't respond. One of the things Gabe has done this year is respond to good competition and perform under pressure. That's been a huge step forward."
Hull weighed 215 pounds when he arrived at the UI. Thanks to the team nutritionist and strength coach, he is now pushing 285. Along with adding weight, Hull is adding an arsenal of shiny medals. This season he has won discus gold at Arizona State, Illinois, Drake, and Musco. He earned silver at Arkansas behind Wright, the 2013 NCAA runner-up.
"Weight was a big topic of discussion when I was a freshman and I'm just now getting to where they want me," Hull said.
There was a reason he remained lean at Bloomington South (Indiana) High School. Coaches in the basketball-crazed state salivated every time they saw Hull walk the halls; football coaches envisioned a can't-miss receiver.
"Basketball in high school was always a big thing," said Hull, who played on two state championship teams. "I didn't even try out half the time; they saw me and plucked me out of the hallway and threw me on the basketball court. Football was the same way: put me at (tight end) and run -- they would throw it in the air and I just had to reach up and grab it."
Those hands that once clutched rebounds and passes now grip implements at the most prestigious track and field venues in the country. The "Big Three" meets on the Hawkeyes' schedule remain, starting with the Big Ten Championships from May 16-18 in West Lafayette, Indiana. The NCAA West Preliminary will be May 29-31 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the NCAA Championships are June 11-14 in Eugene, Oregon.
"Now is the time to be doing well, but you can't get into a mindset where you go out and have to be aggressive," Hull said. "In this sport you have to stay calm and relax -- you know what you have to do so you go out and do it."
Hull completed the best meet of his career May 3 at Musco XV, passing the previous school mark of 202-11 set by A.J. Curtis in 2007. Hull also established a personal best in the shot, placing third (59-4 ¼).
"We had connections," Cappos said. "I followed how he was doing and then he started to emerge as an elite thrower during the end of his junior year. We felt like he had a lot of room to develop so we actively recruited him."
That interest paid off.
"I picked Iowa because of the community the track team has as a whole," Hull said. "When I came on my visit the track team welcomed me with open arms -- the throwers, the runners, the jumpers. Females and males showed me hospitality and that won me over."
Hull has consistently improved distances in his three seasons at the UI. As a freshman in 2012, he threw 192-feet-7 in the discus and placed fifth at the Big Ten Championships (187-1). His PR in the shot put was 54-4 ¾. During his sophomore season in 2013, Hull threw 196-2 in the discus, finished third at Big Tens (188-11), and earned second-team All-America by placing 15th at the NCAA Championships (184-6). He hurled the shot 56-9.
If competition is an indicator, Hull's top marks are on the horizon. The upcoming Big Ten discus flight returns the top four placewinners from 2013: James, Wright, Hull, and Wisconsin's Danny Block.
"Discus is probably the toughest event in the Big Ten," Cappos said. "It's a four-person race and it's going to be anybody's game on that day. Whoever steps up to the challenge is going to win. It's probably just as tough winning a national title as it is to win the Big Ten title in that event."
Hull is currently seeded second in the conference discus and ninth in shot. He defeated Wright, the conference discus leader, at Musco XV by more than three feet. Until Saturday, Hull had goals of throwing 63 meters in discus and 63 feet in shot. He surpassed the discus mark on his second throw Saturday. Toggling between metric and English might confuse some track and field fans, but not Hull. He is majoring in computer science with a minor in mathematics.
Starting April 27, every morning when Hull wakes, he sees the Drake Relays flag on his desk. It represents an accomplishment, but it isn't needed for motivation.
"It's there without needing any physical memento," Hull said of his drive for success. "The first thing that pops in my head is throwing. It gets weird sometimes. I visualize throwing technique almost (24 hours a day, seven days a week)."
With four discus wins under his belt already, Hull appears poised for a monster close to his junior season. He is pleased that his accomplishments have come while wearing black and gold.
"Just being part of the Iowa track team is enough said," Hull said. "It has history, it has passion, it has everything needed in a great track program."