By Aram Tolegian, SGVN
Move over, turkey. There’s something else West Covina High School football fans should be thankful for on Thanksgiving
Only this Noodles isn’t a food item that will be found on anyone’s table this Thanksgiving. Rather, it’s Antonio “Noodles” Hull, a sophomore standout who has put the Bulldogs on his back this postseason and has them a win away from playing for a third consecutive CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division championship.
West Covina (8-4) visits La Serna (11-1) in the semifinals today at California High. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
“I didn’t expect to have this big of a role this year,” Hull said. “I knew I was going to play a part, but I didn’t think that I’d have this role right now.
“I like it. It’s cool.”
So what exactly is Hull’s role? Well, that seemingly changes each week, and if you want to get specific it sometimes changes every series.
It’s no secret injuries have sabotaged the Bulldogs time and again, but Hull has been the one constant head coach Mike Maggiore and his staff turn to in time of need.
When starting quarterback Jon Najera has been lost to injuries at several points this season, Hull has played quarterback. When Najera has been healthy but running backs DeShon Love or Josh Best have not, Hull has stepped in and provided West Covina with the home run threat that’s made the program so successful the past three seasons.
None of it appears to be too much for Hull to handle. Perhaps that’s because his reputation preceded him long before he arrived on campus at West Covina.
Dating back to his youth football days with the Compton Vikings of the Snoop Youth Football League, Hull always was considered to be destined for football greatness. His youth football highlight reel on YouTube was posted on this newspaper’s prep sports blogs and tantalized West Covina fans before he even stepped on campus for his first day of school.
Hull had several high schools interested in his services during his eighth-grade year. Private schools like Cathedral wanted him, as did Gardena Serra and Narbonne. But when Hull’s family moved from Gardena to West Covina prior to his freshman year, there was no doubt about where he would play his high school ball.
“West Covina is a good program and I figured it fit me,” Hull said. “There were other schools, but when we moved to West Covina, I felt like this was the place.
“I’m getting coached by one of the best coaches in the Valley. That always helps.”
Hull has been as advertised. After having to wait until he turned 14, he was brought up to the varsity team last season and stood watch while a dynamic senior class won its second consecutive Hacienda League and Southeast championships.
This past offseason, Hull battled with Najera for the starting quarterback job and ultimately started the season playing a myriad of roles on offense.
The playoffs have been Hull’s breakout party, though.
Against Paramount in the first round, Hull rushed for 130 yards on 13 carries and scored three touchdowns. In the second round, he led West Covina past Muir by rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown.
On Friday, you can expect to see Hull play quarterback and running back. Oh yeah, and safety when West Covina is on defense. Keep in mind he’s still only 15. Hull admitted the wear and tear of his first varsity season is getting to him, but there’s no turning back now with a championship in his sights.
“It’s always something,” Hull said. “I’m hurt right now. I’ve been injured every game. My body is a little banged up. But being back there with Aaron Salgado and my teammates, it’s just given me the extra strength.
“We want to win.”
No matter what happens Friday, West Covina looks like a good bet to make more postseason noise in the future since he’ll be around for two more seasons. Hull’s hoping to solely play quarterback the next two seasons and see where it gets him with college recruiters.
“I’ve got two years,” Hull said. “I think if I grow a few inches, get a little better and learn how to read defenses a little more, I think I can get recruited as a quarterback. Somebody will give me a shot.”
And in case you’re wondering where the nickname “Noodles” came from, it was given to Hull by his father and based on the fictional prohibition-era Jewish gangster character named David “Noodles” Aaronson played by actor Robert DeNiro in the 1984 film “Once Upon a Time in America.”
And despite the film being made more than 20 years before he was born and the obvious differences between himself and a fictional Jewish gangster from the 1920’s, Hull doesn’t mind the nickname one bit.
“He was a leader,” Hull said. “So that’s why my dad gave that nickname. I’m okay with “Noodles.” I’ve been called that all my life.
“One day I might stop it, but I’m fine with it for now.”