Gearing up for Louisiana Tech would be a challenge no matter how the Golden Eagles braced for it. The Bulldogs were winners of two straight games and four out of the last six. On the other hand, Southern Miss had dropped two of its last three. This game was not just a rivalry but a must-win for USM to keep their C-USA championship hopes alive.
On the first USM possession, sophomore Nick Mullens threw a 12-yard pass to Marquise Ricard for a first down and positive momentum for the Golden Eagles. Mullens would again find Ricard on a throw down to the Bulldog 44 yard line. Facing third and seven, Mullens took off down to the La. Tech 42-yard line. His two-yard rush would not give the Golden Eagles a first down, but it would give his football life so much more.
That run would change the trajectory of Mullens’ life on the field forever.
“Stay consistent; stay even keeled,” Mullens said referring to his mindset when his team would struggle through adversity. “No matter if you’re high or low, losing or winning, just be yourself and be consistent and it’ll all work out.”
That run would not only pave the way to a 31-20 loss to the rival Bulldogs. But, that loss would lead the way for Southern Miss to lose the next four games to end their 2014 season with a 3-9 record. That season was not only another blemish on the powerhouse mid-major Southern Miss program that had reached lows the program had never seen.
An 0-12 season under Ellis Johnson was unprecedented and no one saw it coming after going 12-2 and winning a C-USA championship. After Todd Monken was hired following the winless season, his squad won one game in 2013. The 2014 season was supposed to be the season for the Golden Eagles to bounce back. But, a two-yard rush turned into another disappointing year for the Golden Eagles.
“It was so trying, it was really just a test,” Mullens said. “That Sunday [after the La. Tech game] we went out to practice, I was in the boot. We were running 50-yard sprints after every Saturday game. Run a few 50’s to get your body loosened up.”
The boot would not just be a crutch on him for his athletic ability. It crippled his mental frame of mind. He felt weakened by his foot injury that would limit him until the season finale against UAB. His return would yield the same result as the past four games in a loss.
“I sat on the sideline crying,” Mullens said. “Nobody wants to run 50 yard sprints but I wanted to be out there so bad. I was just sitting there watching them…crying.”
Nick Mullens, a six-foot, one-inch, senior hailing from Hoover, Alabama has carried the Southern Miss team ever since he got his first start against UAB his freshman year.
His freshman year, Mullens threw for 659 yards in his last two games alone. As a sophomore, Mullens posted 200-plus yards in nine games in the season before going down with the aforementioned injury against La. Tech. As a junior, Mullens evolved into one of the most prolific passers in the nation, finishing in the Top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns on the season.
Now as a senior, Mullens is facing maybe the biggest question mark of a season since entering the Southern Miss football program his freshman year.
“Everybody worries about schemes but really you got to have a chemistry with your coach,” Mullens said. “To know who he is on and off the field has been great. I’m really excited about the schemes and concepts about the offense.”
Excitement also ran true on the Hattiesburg campus last year as the Golden Eagles were racking up victories led by Todd Monken and his former staff. But, that staff has moved on.
In the first contest that Mullens had with his new leadership, he threw three interceptions alone in just the first half. It was a rocky start to say the least, but, he shook back to finish with 258 yards passing, two rushing touchdowns and two more through the air.
“I just had a pretty tough stretch,” Mullens said. “Those mistakes are easily preventable. It’s a matter of just focusing and not turning the ball over.”
That’s the singular message that Mullens has been learning this season thus far after one game. The season is not just one game, but many. Like the other obstacles in his life, he has learned that the game of football, and life, is not just one moment stretched out over time. But, it is that moment that leads to him knowing his efforts will not be wasted at the end of the day.
Despite injuries, new coaching and new opponents in his way, Mullens strives to push through until the end of the season, and hopefully, keep his NFL dreams alive.