It would be easy for Tiawan Mullen to return to Bloomington this summer feeling pretty good about himself. In fact, he should.
After forcing incompletions on 30 percent of attempts (2nd in FBS), contesting 42.5 percent of targets (3rd in FBS), and grading out as the third best overall cornerback overall in the Big Ten, Pro Football Focus recently described Mullen as “one of the best true freshman cornerbacks we have ever seen.”
That’s high praise, but Mullen arrived on campus hungry a year ago, and he isn’t returning satisfied about anything as a sophomore.
“I would like to improve on everything,” Mullen said on a recent video conference. “There’s always room to improve. I’ve never been satisfied with how I played, freshman year I feel could have been better. I feel like I can do more for the team.”
Following his impressive on the field debut, the postseason awards followed for Mullen.
The 5-foot-10 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. product earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten (coaches, media), first-team Freshman All-American (The Athletic/247Sports), second-team PFF All-Freshman Team, and IU’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Hailing from a prominent football family that includes his brother — NFL cornerback Trayvon Mullen, and cousin — Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, Tiawan arrived in Bloomington last year with the confidence that he could compete at the power five level.
Mullen coined the phrase “new wave” to describe the change his IU recruiting class of 2019 would deliver to Bloomington — and to the surprise of many — he delivered in year one.
Despite only starting eight times in 13 appearances, Mullen led the Big Ten, finished second among freshmen nationally and shared 11th in the country with 13 pass breakups. He also shared the team lead with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Highest graded returning B1G CBs:
1. Tiawan Mullen, Indiana – 80.8
1. Ambry Thomas, Michigan – 80.8
3. Jamar Johnson, Indiana – 80.1 pic.twitter.com/b0rgoSWjW8
— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 29, 2020
How does Mullen plan to build on his breakout 2019 campaign?
With a year under his belt, he wants to transition from reacting to the offense to reading and anticipating what is coming his way.
“I want to know what play the offense is running each play,” Mullen said. “I want to improve on being a vocal leader. Make top plays when they need me, things like that.”
Training in Florida with his brothers, Mullen says he didn’t miss a beat over the last three months. It has been all systems go as he builds toward what projects to be high profile sophomore campaign.
His expectation is that his team will similarly use the 2019 success as a springboard.
“The next step for IU Football is to keep building it. Showing everybody that we can be consistent and that after one year we’re not going to go backwards,” Mullen said. “Keep moving others, keep working hard, keep buying in, everyone believing in each other. With that comes a lot.”
Growing up in that football family, trying to hang as a youngster with the likes Trayvon and Jackson, that fueled a competitive fire.
Mullen no doubt came up short a time or two in the family football skirmishes. But those setbacks are a distant memory. What isn’t is IU’s loss at The Gator Bowl in January.
That still has Mullen’s full attention.
“The motivation comes from losing by one point. It boils my stomach but not in the wrong way,” Mullen said. “When we lose by one point it’s like, what could we do differently, how can we approach the 2020 season?”
Mullen is going approach it just like he did 2019.
Confident and hungry.
“There’s always a chip on my shoulder. It’s going to be a great year for us,” he said.
Mullen’s energy could have been easily mistaken for bright-eyed true freshman talk last summer.
But he talked the talk and walked the walk. And now when he speaks, people are listening intently.
The new wave has rolled ashore.
And this time no one doubts that the next wave is coming.
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