Offensive linemen, vital to victory at any level, remain football’s unsung heroes. Ask anyone with any knowledge of the sport and they’ll tell you nobody works harder than the guys up front. Nobody endures more. They hit and absorb hits on every play.
And yet the only time they are noticed is when a man in a striped shirt throws a flag for holding and calls out the offending lineman’s number for all God’s children to hear. The late Kent Hull, of Greenwood, Mississippi State and the Buffalo Bills, was the exception. Hull, a splendid center, was so intelligent, so honest and so glib, sports writers and sportscasters sought him regularly. Everyone wanted to know what Kent had to say. I know I did, from the time he first played as a freshman at Mississippi State until the day he died.
Hull, who left us far too soon at age 50 in October of 2011, didn’t seek attention; it sought him. But he loved the role of an offensive lineman. He knew they got little credit for important work. And that’s why he surely would appreciate the idea that the most outstanding college offensive lineman in Mississippi each autumn receives the Kent Hull Trophy.
Mississippi State’s Justin Senior, a fifth year senior, Tuesday was named the 2016 recipient.
Hull embodied all we respect in an offensive lineman: strength, quickness, toughness, intelligence, work ethic, dependability and humility. As a citizen, he opened his pockets and gave and gave, mostly to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital. The Hull Trophy annually goes to the Mississippi college offensive lineman who most displays those traits that enabled Hull to play in three Pro Bowls, four Super Bowls and become one of the most respected linemen and leaders in the NFL. The trophy – a bronzed replica of Hull at work – is presented each year at the C Spire Conerly Trophy Banquet. This year’s will be Tuesday, Nov. 29 at the Clarksdale Country Club.
You should know that the idea for the Kent Hull Trophy came from a group of Hull’s friends. And this will tell you much about how many friends Hull had. We held a Kent Hull Appreciation Banquet in 2013 to raise money to support the annual award. Originally scheduled to be held at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, which has a 250-seat banquet capacity, the event eventually sold out and the Jackson Hilton (capacity in excess of 500).
It took Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, then suffering from cancer, a split second to say “Yes” when asked if he would speak at the appreciation banquet. “Kent was the heartbeat of the Buffalo Bills,” Kelly said.. “He was the leader of the Buffalo Bills. People talk about Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly, but if you were looking for the glue to it all you looked no further than number 67.”
Kelly strongly believes Hull belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It hasn’t happened yet, but it still might. Hull is among those being considered by the Hall of Fame’s veterans committee.
A personal note: I was proud to call Kent Hull a friend. His first year at Mississippi State coincided with my first season of covering State football at The Clarion-Ledger. He was supposed to red-shirt that season but injuries forced him into a starting role as a 200-pound center. But Hull battled and Emory Bellard, his coach, loved him. “As tough as a two-bit steak,” Bellard would say of Hull in that Texas drawl of his. “You watch, that boy is going to be a great player.”
I watched Bellard’s words come true. Eventually, I covered Kent in four Super Bowls, where he reminded everyone he was just a good ol’ boy from Greenwood. He would say that he and Kelly came into Buffalo the same year. Kelly, said Hull, came to town in a limousine.
Said Kent, laughing, “I followed him into town on a wagonload of pumpkins.”
That was Kent.
Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.