Trailing the UAB Blazers with less than 12 minutes left in the third quarter, USM freshman quarterback Nick Mullens threw a strike to Dominique Sullivan for a 43-yard touchdown pass. It was the first of six touchdowns for Mullens in that second half. It not only sparked a comeback, but also a 62-27 rout of the Blazers on their home field.
For Southern Miss, it was the school’s first win in almost two years and the only win of the 2013 season. For Mullens, the 18-year-old quarterback from Spain Park High School in Hoover, Ala., it was a game that garnered him a lot of attention. Mullens completed 24 of 39 pass attempts for 370 yards, five passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.
That week, Mullens was recognized as the C-USA Co-Offensive Player of the Week, one of eight “Stars of the Week” (as recognized by the Manning Award) and the recipient of an ESPN College Gameday helmet sticker for his performance. It was his second game of the season with over 300 passing yards, and his career-high five passing touchdowns tied for a school record.
When asked about his success in that game, Mullens focused his answers around humility and hard work These are two valuable lessons that he learned and continues to learn each day.
Growing up in Hoover, Ala. certainly helped Mullens get ready for college football. At Spain Park High School, Mullens put in numerous hours of hard work that resulted in the first regional title in the school’s history.
His work at Spain Park not only produced immediate results for him, but also prepared him for Southern Miss football by teaching him to be both competitive and levelheaded.
“At Spain Park, football’s pretty big, so I think that kind of helped me mentally,” Mullens said. “I can’t let the big stage affect me.”
Spain Park ran an Air Raid offense, which coincidentally was the type of offense Coach Todd Monken wanted to install at Southern Miss. Once Mullens realized that he would be a perfect fit at USM, he was immediately on-board with Monken’s program.
Redshirt junior Cole Weeks and redshirt senior Allan Bridgford were also vying for the position of starting quarterback in fall camp. But amid the competition both Weeks and Bridgford both became friends and mentors to Mullens.
“He actually became a bigger mentor when I got the starting job,” Mullens said of Bridgford. “He was very accepting and he’s a great teammate. He’s real nice, and both he and (Weeks) offered me words of advice and of confidence.”
Having known Monken’s style of offense for quite some time and with advice from his peers, Mullens put forth a remarkable effort for a true freshman in the last six games of the 2013 season. In that time he passed for 1,776 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging more than 276 yards per game. The last game of the season, in what Mullens described as a “do-or-die situation,” he led the Golden Eagles on a 28-0 third-quarter rally after an eight-point halftime deficit.
“The receivers made plays, the offensive line blocked well, Randall Agee did a great job at center for us,” Mullens said about the UAB game. “Everything was clicking. In coach Monken’s offense you can score a lot of points. It’s just a matter of getting out there and doing your job.”
Rather than focus on his individual performance in that game, Mullens chose to celebrate the success of his team.
“I was happier for the team and for Southern Miss,” Mullens said. “I saw all the fans gathered around the walkway when we headed back to the campus and that was a really cool feeling.
“I was almost happier for the fans than the team,” Mullens said. “They never gave up on us, and then we won and it was like the greatest day for Southern Miss. It was amazing to see all the support flow in from all around Mississippi.”
Mullens believes the UAB game provided the boost of confidence that Southern Miss needed to win more games. He is confident in the coaches, the teammates, the new recruits and the fans. But as quarterback, he knows that he must be both a confident leader as well as a hard worker.
“That (UAB) game let me know that I can be something better than what I was in those previous games, that I can certainly get better and work hard to get better,” Mullens said.
“So I use that game as motivation more than I do reason to have a big head. Part of being a quarterback is making your teammates better as well as yourself, and that’s what I’ve got to do a better job of.”