By George Von Benko
Uniontown High School was a football powerhouse through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, and one of the toughest Red Raiders to grace the gridiron during that period was the man they called “Hook” - big John Hull.
Hull was a part of some great Red Raider football squads from 1964 through 1966 and played a little basketball and ran track as well.
“I started the Johnstown football game as a sophomore,” Hull recalled. “I played center and linebacker, played both ways and snapped for the punts. I kicked extra points, except in that first game where Grover kicked. Before the games they would make us kick 10 kicks, and whoever ever made the most kicks got to kick the extra points. Grover won that time, and we tied 6-6 in that game.”
“The rain made the field a muddy mess, and the official would actually hold the ball until you got out there. It was really bad. It was bad for us because, back then with Gardner Points, it knocked us out of the playoffs. We only had 14 points scored on us the rest of the year. I’m proud of that. I got to call the defense the whole year. It was a super year,” remembered Hull.
Hull marvels at some of the athletes that
“Ron Sepic was my hero,” Hull said. “Doc Yates, when I was sophomore, took care of me and took me under his wing. I had people like Ray Parson, Wilfred Minor, Ray Gillian, Huey and Nelson Munsey and the list goes on. You had some of the younger kids like Mike Lemansky and Eddie Nypaver. You look back and say my goodness. I was just blessed to come along at that time.”
Uniontown was 8-0-1 in Hull’s sophomore season. As a junior, the Red Raiders were unbeaten at 10-0 and captured the WPIAL Class AA championship. In 1966 - Hull’s senior year - the Red Raiders posted a 6-3 mark.
“The junior season was special,” Hull said. “We had a little more points scored on us that year. After 20, I quit counting, but we played some good teams and beat Washington by a touchdown, and then we went down and played Trinity. They were undefeated going into the last game of the year, and we whipped them by five or six touchdowns. Then the big game was at Pitt Stadium against Butler, and I’ll never forget that one.”
Hull, who then played end and linebacker, was a big part in Uniontown’s 14-7 win over Butler. He had a miscue, which helped Butler take a 7-0
A punt by Minor was fumbled on the 9-yard line. Joe Croftcheck recovered, but the Raiders were offside and were sent back to their own 48-yard line from where they had to punt again. A high snap from Hull sailed away from Minor, and Butler’s Rich Saul chased him back to the 20. Still Minor got the kick away and the ball when out of bounds at midfield.
Butler scored nine plays later to take a 7-0 lead.
Hull later caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Minor to tie the game at 7-7, as he also booted two extra points in the game. Uniontown sealed the victory with an 87-yard drive in nine plays, capped by Gillian’s 30-yard run with a 1:50 remaining.
“Gillian broke loose for the TD, and he did it on a broken ankle,” Hull said. “That was gut-check time. I caught the pass that made it 7-7, and Gillian’s run iced it. The defense played great all day, and the offense also played well.
“Butler, you’ve got to give it to them, they had a heck of a team. But had it not been for me snapping the ball over Minor’s head on the punt, they never would have scored. I gave them great field position. That wasn’t a fun time for me, but you’ve got to remember the bad with the good, and we overcame my
Hull was disappointed with his senior season as the Raiders slipped in 1966.
“The senior season we lost lot of tremendous athletes. We had a lot of guys who quit playing that year,” Hull said. “We were young. Sal Mercadante was a junior and Bobby Lucas was a junior. We played well. We lost to Johnstown, 12-0, (the game was later forfeited to Uniontown because Johnstown used a ineligible player) and we lost to Connellsville, 9-7. Jim Braxton kicked a field goal to beat us. We ended up on the 1-yard line as time ran out. Six and three isn’t a bad season, but I played on two undefeated teams.”
Hull has fond memories of the Red Raider football coaching staff.
“Coach Kaltenbach was just unique,” Hull said. “He did a lot to get people in school, and we had some great assistant coaches. Tony Nunes was there when I was a sophomore and junior and taught me a lot about football and how to think outside the box, and Joe Yourchik beat me up and made me tough. All good coaches are blessed when they have good assistants - guys like Coach Conrad on the defensive side of the ball. He took care of me.”
Hull also played basketball.
“I played as a sophomore and a junior,” Hull said. “I was on the “Wrecking Crew” my junior year - the second team. We had great players. My senior year I was playing football, and it seemed like every college wanted me to visit, so I didn’t play basketball.”
Uniontown didn’t have a baseball team in those days.
“We didn’t have high school baseball back then,” Hull lamented. “That was one of my loves. North Union and South Union had teams - every school but Uniontown. I think my brother’s senior year they started it. I enjoyed Teener League, County League and Legion ball. That was my fun sport.”
Hull was also a part of the playground culture at
“Lincoln View was my playground. We’d play from morning until night,” Hull said. “Ruby Laskey ran Lincoln View. She was great. I think we really grew up in a great time - really a better time than our kids did.”
Hull was All-County as a junior and senior, All-State as a senior and voted second team on the Parade Magazine All-America team. He played in the Big 33 game and received the Golden Boot as the Class AA MVP at the Dapper Dan Banquet. The award used to be on display at O’Gillies Pub and Deli. When Hull graduated in 1967, he was heavily recruited for football. The Big Ten schools pursued him, along with West Virginia and Pitt.
“I made two major mistakes in my athletic career. The first one was not going to Penn State because coach Kaltenbach didn’t want me to go there. The second was leaving Iowa for the simple reason that when I transferred back to Penn State I left the defensive side of the ball. They made me a tight end, and that was fine, but up there that’s like being an outside tackle when you had Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris
running the ball.”
After one year at Iowa, he returned to Penn State. He injured a knee and played on the 1970 and 1971 squads. The 1970 team finished 7-3 and voted not to go to the Gator Bowl, and the 1971 squad posted an 11-1 mark and defeated Texas 30-6 in the
“My brother Tom followed me to Penn State. I stepped in on that one and told him to make his own mind up and tell everyone to leave you alone. He had a great career up there,” Hull said.
At Penn State, Hull played, but was almost
“I was never going to start there. I got hurt my sophomore year and missed that whole year with reconstructive knee surgery,” Hull said. “I came back in good shape and thought I was going to play, and I did. We ran plays in. Coach Paterno never let the quarterbacks call the plays. My junior year I alternated with Jimmy McCord, and when we got inside the 30-yard line, I never came out of the game. It just seemed the closer we got to the goal line, the more I got to play. I played a lot my senior year and played on some good teams. The whole way through I played with the best athletes in high school and great talent in college.”
When Hull graduated from Penn State, pro football did not come calling.
“I didn’t play enough. That’s one of the things that has kind of always haunted me,” Hull said. “Not that I was the greatest tight end in the world, but I played middle linebacker at Iowa, captained the freshman team and probably should have stayed there. It bothered me that I didn’t get a shot at the pros. I watched people play that I’d played against, and my passion at the time was football. It was a learning experience. I passed it on to my kids and didn’t let them make the same mistakes.”
After college, Hull returned to Uniontown, worked for Null Ford and then moved to Florida, where he sold heavy trucks. He stayed in heavy equipment sales for 18 years. He was a vice president in charge of the transportation and marine claims department for
Essex Insurance Company in Richmond, Va. Hull
retired in 2015.
Hull, 70, is married to the former Eileen Francis of Uniontown. They have been married 49 years. They have two sons - Jason, an orthopedic surgeon, and Brett, an engineer.
“I’ve got a couple of grandkids that keep me busy,” Hull said. “I’m fortunate that they are close by.”
Hull doesn’t get back to Fayette County too often, but loves his hometown.
“I love Uniontown and I’m married to a Uniontown girl,” Hull said. “You see guys you ran around with and you pick up right where you left off. That’s what is great about Uniontown. I’ve been away for awhile, but I don’t have any friends like I did in Uniontown.”