As a sophomore, Tiawan Mullen did something no Indiana player at his position had ever done. He was named first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association, becoming the first ever Indiana cornerback to earn such an honor from any accredited organization that puts together an All-America team. Playing both cornerback and nickel, he was one of the hardest defensive players to game plan for in the Big Ten, recording 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss while also notching three interceptions and seven pass break-ups.
But Mullen knows there’s more he can get out of his game physically and mentally, and particularly more he can do as a leader.
To this point he’s tried to lead by example, because that was the position he was in. He had to achieve something first on the field before he could start telling others what to do. But he’s earned his voice, and now he has to use it.
“Each season, I feel like I grew as a young man,” Mullen said in a press conference last week. “I always came in with a mature mindset. Just getting guys to trust me my freshman year. My sophomore year, the guys trusted me a lot more. Now it’s just being more of a leader, being more vocal. You can lead by example, but sometimes that’s not good enough.”
That includes telling players when they did well, but also when they didn’t, he said. Being a veteran like Mullen is now means telling teammates what they’re getting right and wrong so their opponents don’t have to. Mullen said veteran teammates Micah McFadden, Ty Fryfogle and Michael Penix Jr. do that already, and he should join that group.
“You have to let guys know to pick it up,” Mullen said. “When they did a good job, but also, excuse my language but, you have to rip his ass when it’s time to rip his ass, honestly. The leadership group does that so the coaches don’t have to do it.”
Mullen doesn’t have a problem doing that because he thinks this Indiana team has a chance to be special and he’s seen big strides quickly. A four-star recruit from Coconut Creek, Fla., he signed with the Hoosiers in the midst of a two-year stint when they failed to reach a bowl game in either season. In his two years with Indiana, they’ve been to the Gator Bowl and the Outback Bowl, the most prestigious bowls they’ve played in since at least the 1980s and arguably since the Rose Bowl that followed the 1967 season. The Hoosiers are 14-7 in his two seasons.
— Tiawan Mullen (@Mullen_7era) August 3, 2021
“I always expected this coming into my freshman year,” Mullen said. “Just believing. We’re going to have a different mindset. Going into win one game at a time. We’re not going in with any doubts. … We’re building something special. We’re not looking backward. We’re looking forward. Whatever happened at Indiana in the past, we’re not looking at that.”
To look forward for his own game, Mullen spent the offseason putting muscle on his upper body. He would eat four or five meals a day, with chicken alfredo pasta being his go-to dish, hydrate extensively and spend more time in the weight room. He’s listed at 180 pounds after arriving at 160.
“We have a great, great strength coach and strength staff,” Mullen said. “We took a lot of time figuring out what I need in terms of body mass. … Just playing in the Big Ten, you need a strong body, a fit body. Just being able to last and play in the Big Ten, and we’re playing good teams in non-conference. It’s good weight and I’m still able to move around efficiently.”
And it means he won’t be any less versatile this year. He will still play the nickel and the corner, which means blitzing, run fits and covering both inside and outside receivers.
“I’m going to do the same thing,” Mullen said. “Playing outside and inside. They know I can do it. They know I can cover the slot. They know I can blitz. I’m better at that than my freshman year. It’s continuing the versatility with me. Just showing I can continue to play any part of the field. Just get the job done.”
Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no additional cost to you.