Evan Hull didn't enter the 2021 Northwestern football season as the starting tailback, but it took only one game for him to prove worthy of the job.

The 5-11, 210-pound Maple Grove native went from backup to the Big Ten's sixth leading rusher last year. He enters the 2022 college football season as one of the top players from Minnesota.

In last week's opening win vs. Nebraska, Hull made it clear he's ready to build on last year's success to help the Wildcats have a bounceback season. He finished with 172 total yards, including 119 yards rushing and the game-deciding touchdown in Northwestern's 31-28 victory over the Cornhuskers on Saturday in Dublin, Ireland.

"I love it," the redshirt junior said last weekend. "There were blows back and forth, but we didn't flinch. At the end of the day, we could look back at our offseason and what prepared us."

Hull's opportunity to win the starting spot came after No. 1 back Cam Porter suffered a season-ending leg injury last August. After starting 11 games in 2021, Hull recorded four 100-yard performances, including 107 yards against his home state Gophers.

Northwestern's disappointing 3-9 record included a six-game season-ending losing streak, but Hull made strides in the running game to finish the year.

Former South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski showed improvement by throwing for 304 yards and two touchdowns last weekend.

But a healthy Porter for the Wildcats ground attack made Hull even more dangerous — as he even caught five passes for 55 yards. Porter and Hull combined for 213 yards and two touchdowns rushing against Nebraska.

"He helped me out a lot and I'm so proud of him," Hull said. "He's a tough dude. I'm glad to be out there with him because when I look at him and he looks at me we know we got this. We're in this together."

Hull credited his running backs coach Louis Ayeni, a former Woodbury star and member of the 2000 Big Ten championship Wildcats team, for helping him thrive as Northwestern's feature back once the role fell upon him.

Maple Grove's all-time leading rusher was recruited by Ayeni and Northwestern with no scholarship offer from the Gophers.

As a freshman in 2019, Hull rushed for 220 yards and four TDs against Massachusetts in his first career start, but his most memorable game was starting at Minnesota in that year's regular season finale.

"It was a good defense they had," Hull said. "They had a lot of good talent. As a freshman being able to go out there and play against the best in the Big Ten, that was pretty exciting. It was a lot to learn."

Three years later, an underrated Minnesota football talent with just one Power Five offer out of high school has a chance to become an All-Big Ten back for the Wildcats.

"I can use a lot of that for fuel," Hull said. "I was overlooked in a lot of different ways coming out of Minnesota."