Back in Florida, Mullen readying for 2020 season

With spring camp suspended and his football players scattered, Indiana cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby finds himself at the dining table each morning, eating breakfast with his kids.

“Shoot, that’s not happened in the years they’ve been alive,” Shelby said. “So I’m going to be thankful for that.”

More time to be a dad is a gift. But he’s no less a busy coach. Shelby’s day is still filled to the brim with virtual staff meetings and calls to recruits. He’s still breaking down film ahead of the 2020 season, whenever it actually arrives.

It’s more than enough. But it’s not everything. There are also these pesky text messages from an eager pupil. Tiawan Mullen may be more than 1,000 miles away in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but the rising sophomore just won’t stop tossing film study questions at Shelby.

“Hey, coach, can you get on here right now? Hey, coach, I want to look at this game. Can we look at this cutup?” Shelby said, recalling the text barrage with a hint of annoyance. “Hey, man, we can do it, but we’re in a staff meeting right now. I still got other obligations I have to do.

“I’m not like you. I’m not just sitting at the house, man, 15 hours out of the day, chillin’.”

While a lack of awareness may prompt Shelby to hit back, his jabs aren’t totally sincere. Anyone can scan Mullen’s Twitter and see the Hoosiers’ starting corner isn’t just chillin’ in Florida. He’s posting images from workouts with his brothers Trayvon and Trevell, the former an NFL player, the latter an up-and-coming prep prospect. When they aren’t grinding physically, Mullen is wanting to sharpen mentally, which leads to those texts to Shelby.

Because the mental part is the next step for a corner who forced his way onto the field with sheer competitive drive. Last season, Mullen was only provided the basic information needed to navigate a debut season in the Big Ten: “If you see this picture, make this check.” He knew where to put his eyes, how to cover, but Mullen didn’t know what everyone else was doing.

But now Mullen wants to know what that check means for the entire defense. He wants to take that next step. Now.

“When you start doing that, you take the next step from an All-Big Ten honorable mention to, hey, first-team All-Big Ten, All-American,” Shelby said. “That’s ultimately where his goal is, and that’s ultimately where I want to push him.”

Shelby isn’t shy about how good Mullen can be. And it’s precisely because he’s such a competitor, eager to get on a field, watch film, all of that. “That’s what makes him different and that’s why he has the opportunity to go down as one of the best DBs to come out of Indiana, you know what I’m saying? Of all time,” Shelby added. “If he continues to do it.”

From the outside, it would appear an offseason of separation and isolation could hinder that progress. But these conditions only separate the hardest workers from those who aren’t. Mullen cares way too much to let present circumstances dictate his development.

The moment he met IU coach Tom Allen for a recruiting visit, he was handing him a piece of paper with goals he’d written down, including bowl wins and conference titles. When he stepped on campus, he titled his freshman class the “New Wave,” because they would be the ones to make it all happen. On the sideline, Shelby saw a boyishly built freshman displaying a veteran cool, reminding teammates to admit mistakes and move on.

“He’s an old soul, man,” Shelby said of the 5-foot-10, 176-pound corner. “Honestly, he’s a guy who is a freshman but he acts like a fifth-year senior. He’ll go and have a good time but he isn’t the typical freshman in college, trying to find yourself, maybe overindulging in a whole lot of different things. He’s kind of a Steady Eddy.”

The pandemic has returned Mullen to the environment that made him who he is. He’s with his mom, Lucretia Peterman, who sets very high standards. She doesn’t “take no lip,” as Shelby puts it. Mullen is also alongside Trayvon, fresh off his first season with the Raiders. The former Clemson star has a few other NFL players he’s training with, meaning Tiawan is surrounded by the best and the brightest in the game.

Trevell is also capable of pushing his older brothers. He’s just a sophomore in high school, but the 5-11 corner has scholarship offers from IU, Oregon, and Arkansas.

It’s good company for some backpedaling drills, chopping their feet and changing directions. At a gym, Mullen has been seen running in place on a platform, his arms and waist attached with thick strings for tension. Outside of competition, just spending time with his brothers has been a gift.

“I’ve been able to get to sit around and talk, not just about football but also about life and school,” Mullen said. “It’s been a great feeling for us to be grinding for the same thing. It’s a great bond, trying different techniques from what we see and what we don’t see.”

In a world full of “me” people, Shelby is quick to point out that Mullen isn’t one. The product of a tight family unit, Mullen would call Shelby after his recruiting trips down to Florida, staying up late just to make sure his future coach made it back OK to Indiana. And he doesn’t just care about IU’s football program. He attends women’s basketball games and track and field meets to support his classmates.

He doesn’t miss class. He hasn’t missed one this semester.

For himself, Mullen has set big goals. He wants to play in the NFL one day. But when his mind is put back on the Hoosiers’ last game, a one-point loss to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl, personal goals are instantly set aside.

“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? There’s always a chip on my shoulder.

“It’s going to be a great year for us. Even though we are going through adversity right now, it’s going to be great.”

Mullen is thinking on how to approach the future. That’s why he is texting Shelby, eager for another film session. He wants to know when he makes that check, where the linebackers are going, how the defensive line is rushing. He wants to know what that’s forcing the offense to do, and how his coverage plays into that grand scheme.

If Shelby is busy, those requests for information may be met with a mild ribbing. But, in the end, it’s a curiosity Shelby happily finds the time to feed.

Between family breakfast, recruiting calls, and virtual meetings, coach and player are pushing for that next level.

“He’s champing at the bit to get back to work. He loves football,” Shelby said. “And when you recruit, you love a guy who loves football. That’s what separates him from a lot of different people. He’s a competitor, man.”

5 comments

  1. IU needs a team full of players as driven as Mullen is; of course he is part of a tight disciplined family which helps. His example should help a lot of the players to see how driven they need to be to excel. With enough of the players following Mullen’s example IU can move up in the B1G.

    IU has players that show they are a special talent and it will be nice to see the 2020 class bring a few more of these players to the team this coming season.

    1. Recruiting is the key. IU must increase the overall talent level of the team relative to their conference rivals if they’re to move up. Development of the players there will be a huge issue, too, but you have to bring in better talent across the board to start matching the rest of the conference.

  2. I think Allen should adopt Clarion’s beautiful visionary statement as the new motto for IU Football: “The future is like the sun coming up.”

    IU Basketball tried “Hoosier Rising”….IU Football shall now go with “Sun Rising” because the odds are better.

  3. Average team talent + superior QB = winning record.

    Winning seasons results in signing better talent which results in more winning seasons. If 2020 is another winning season, this time with a victory in a bowl game, the level of talent will improve.

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