Mullen helps break new ground as IU All-American corner

When Indiana cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby heard sophomore Tiawan Mullen was a first-team All-American, there was one thing he wanted to know.

Who was the last IU corner to do it?

He called IU’s sports information director, Jeff Keag, expecting to find another name.

“He had to go back and look at the archives, realizing that it hadn’t been done,” Shelby said.

Tim Wilbur, a second-teamer in 1980, was the only other All-American corner. IU hasn’t had a first-team All-American at any position since offensive guard Dan Feeney in 2015 and ’16.

But with Mullen’s honor from the Football Writers Association of America, it was just one more first knocked out for the Hoosiers in 2020. Not that it’s a goal Mullen ever had circled as a possibility.

The sophomore has talked a little bit about possibly aiming to be a Jim Thorpe Award candidate in the past, but his goals tend to be more team-focused. He’s the one who wrote down on a piece of paper how many years it had been since IU had won the Big Ten and a bowl game, bringing those numbers with him to his recruiting visit with IU coach Tom Allen.

But becoming an All-American? Not on that paper.

“Being an All-American, it’s not something I was deeply looking into, because I don’t really make self goals,” Mullen said. “Whatever comes with team accolades, I accept. Yeah, it was kind of a shock.

“When they told me I got it, you know, it was just, ‘Wow,’ and then they told me I was the first person. It was amazing, I was amazed by it, because I thought it was someone else who was an All-American first.”

At the same time, Shelby doesn’t know if there’s anyone better to be the Hoosiers’ first. Again, he was one of those recruits who came to Bloomington, hoping to change the trajectory of a program that hasn’t had too many All-Americans, nor winning seasons. He tends to think more big picture.

His stats are great, including 36 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, and three interceptions. But Shelby likes to bring up the fact that Mullen carries a 3.4 grade point average. He will remind you that Mullen is a guy who goes to women’s basketball games and swim meets, supporting his fellow IU athletes all over campus.

“I don’t think there’s a more fitting person to be the first,” Shelby said. “Humble guy, very, very grateful, and it just goes to show young people, when you do things right, you treat people right, I still believe that you get blessed. He is a proven example of that.

“You can do it the right way, you can treat people the right way. You go to work and you will still get the things that you deserve.”

Mullen almost didn’t, though. In the first round of All-America honors, released by the Associated Press, Mullen was left off the team. IU linebacker Micah McFadden and receiver Ty Fryfogle were pegged as third-teamers. It was a complete snubbing of an IU secondary that has reeled in a nation’s best 17 interceptions in seven games.

But the FWAA’s voting panel rewarded Mullen in a very big way, recognizing the versatility he’s brought to the field. While he excelled as a pass-breakup artist as a freshman, IU was able to line him up as a “nickel back” at times this season – essentially, the safety-linebacker hybrid position – and blitz him off the edge.

“What that committee had a chance to see is a guy who does so many different things, even on special teams,” Shelby said. “When you put that all together, to me, I think it equals an All-American. He’s talked about the Thorpe Award. I think when … you look at the whole body of his statistics, what he’s done, I think he needs to be in that conversation.”

Mullen brought up the Thorpe Award himself, just to reiterate the point that he hasn’t been focused on individual awards, but now that he’s won one, it’s no reason to be satisfied.

“There is always more out there, the Jim Thorpe Award, or become an All-American again next year, so it’s not satisfying,” Mullen said. “There’s always more out there. It’s an honor to receive the award, and I’m very grateful for it, like is said before.

“As long as you are playing for the team, you don’t play for self-accolades, things will fall into place.”

Back to full strength?

Speaking of that team, the Hoosiers arrived in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s Outback Bowl. IU coach Tom Allen said Thursday that all of his players that were previously sidelined by COVID-19 are back at practice.

At the same time, given the nature of the pandemic, he can’t say for certain he will have everyone on game day. IU still has more tests to undergo in the days leading up to the bowl, per usual.

“Can’t say 100 percent for game day yet, that we’ll have everybody,” Allen said. “As of today, the guys that have been back are all back and have been able to practice. Just a matter of getting those guys physically ready. Quite a bit warmer here, so we have to deal with that as far as game day and keeping hydrated from that.”

But unlike other teams, including Ole Miss, the Hoosiers have not had any players opt-out of the bowl game. That comes back to some of the points being made about Mullen.

Allen feels the lack of opt-outs speaks to IU’s other-focused culture.

“The buy-in here is extremely high,” Allen said. “They understand what we are trying to build and they want to be a part of it. They want to be a part of the team that won the first bowl game in 29 years. I think it does speak a lot toward how they feel about each other, when it’s about the guys around you, when genuinely that’s your motivation, to play for the guys beside you.”

One comment

  1. The more we learn about IUFB players the more we see how special they are. I love the way our DBs play and t5hink Mullen leads them but several could be considered for national awards with the way they play.

    It is good to hear the team is at full strength for the bowl game. I expect to see IU play a great game on the 2nd and set up 2021 to be another great year for IUFB.

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