June 8, 2011

Multi-talented Mullen just makes plays

Look at No. 21. The kid's all over the place.

That's him out there at safety, reading the quarterback's eyes, flying across the field, lowering his shoulder and delivering a crushing blow to a Century receiver.

That's him lined up in the slot, taking reverses and rattling off marathon-length touchdown runs to lead his team back from a three-score deficit against Westminster.


And look. There he is again. That's him out their on special teams, racing down the sidelines, dropping the North Carroll return man like a sack of dirty laundry.

Yes, that's Dan Mullen out there, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound South Carroll phenom.

"He's an all around player who can do it all," South Carroll coach Steve Luette said. "As a safety he reads the field, he breaks so quickly, he picks balls off and he can tackle. As a receiver he runs great patterns, he knows how to read a defense and he has great hands. Then on special teams he's always making plays. He literally never leaves the field."

Well, that's not exactly true. There was one time he played the part of bystander. In a preseason scrimmage last year Luette and his staff accidentally left Mullen off their kick-return team. Naturally, when Luette didn't spot him out there, he went a little berserk.

Needless to say, the problem was quickly corrected.

"Hey, a lot of big plays come on special teams. I love running down the field," Mullen said. "Basically I just love being out there and making plays."

Mullen has been "making plays" since his youth league days, when he ran rampant over the competition like a bulldozer in a compound lot.

But Luette had his eye on the young prodigy long before he'd even seen him play.

The longtime Carroll coach remembered Mullen's older brother, Ryan, who starred for the Cavaliers before continuing his career at Washington & Jefferson College. After coaching Ryan, Luette couldn't wait to get another Mullen in the pipeline, especially after the middle brother, Tyler, opted for wrestling over football.

"We knew the bloodlines were there," Luette said.

Of course, genes aren't always the best indicator of future success. The list of younger sibling burnouts is long, but in this case Luette's premonition proved correct.

Unlike Tyler, who's currently wrestling for Davidson, Dan chose to follow his oldest brother's path at South Carroll. As a first-year running back on the freshman team he rushed for more than 20 touchdowns, prompting a quick promotion to varsity.

"He was just a force," Luette said. "After that we decided he didn't need to play a down of jayvee. He was ready for varsity."

Mullen was so impressive in summer workouts before his sophomore year Luette immediately thrust him into the starting lineup. On both sides of the ball.

Once again, he made the right decision.

As a receiver, Mullen averaged almost 13 yards per catch and hauled in five touchdowns. As a corner, he recorded 52 tackles and picked off a pair of passes. Not to mention all the special teams tackles he made.

Last year Mullen took on an even more dynamic role. Offensively, Luette made him a receiver-running back hybrid in an effort to get the ball in his hands more often. He responded by totaling almost 1,000 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns.

Defensively, Mullen's size and ranginess necessitate a move to safety. He proceeded to lead the secondary with 63 tackles and two interceptions.

"I remember we had to specifically prepare for him in our playoff game against [South Carroll]," said Middletown's top receiver, Ben Lewis. "We beat them up pretty good, but [Mullen] was a real good player. Offensively I had to shadow him, and defensively he probably covered me as well as anyone had all year."

Mullen's play drew praise from just about everyone … except Mullen.


He isn't exactly the type to brag, boast or say much of anything at all. He probably won't be the guy speaking up in the huddle, leading a charge onto the field or giving a pregame pep talk.

After a big hit Mullen calmly walks back to the huddle. And after a long touchdown run he hands the ball to the ref, although he might accept a teammate's high-five.

"I'm pretty shy; I don't express myself much," Mullen said. "I don't see the need to talk unless I'm talked to."

Mullen's personality mirrors his game. He won't wow onlookers with 4.4 40-yard dash speed, bone-rattling hits or circus catches. But what he'll give them is a steady, dependable performance in all three phases of the game.

"You put him out there and you know the job's going to get done," Luette said. "If I had eleven like him, then I wouldn't need anymore players. Just give me eleven Dan Mullens."

Problem is, college recruiters like flashy guys. Players who have a potpourri of modest skills but don't shine in any one area tend to be overshadowed. Even Luette admitted Mullen "needs to stick out more."

Mullen doesn't disagree.

"I'd like to think I'm pretty good in a lot of different areas, but I don't necessarily stand out tremendously in any particular area," Mullen said. "Like my speed. I'm at around a 4.7 right now. That's not bad, but I need to pick it up."

But if football doesn't work out, well, there's always basketball. Mullen is the starting point guard for a South Carroll team that went to the state semifinals last year.

Much like his game on the gridiron, Mullen does a little bit of everything on the hardwood. He's known as a scrappy defender, an unselfish assist man and a clutch scorer. Last year he averaged eight points, seven assists, three steals and three rebounds.

"Sometimes he wants to defer to being the seven-assists-a-game guy, which is great," his basketball coach, Doug Goff, told the Carroll County Times after a win over Century. "But he has that in him, to take over some games, too."

So which does Mullen prefer, basketball or football?

"I have no idea," said Mullen, chuckling. "I never thought of it like that. I love them both and have been playing them both forever."

Mullen did acknowledge he'd continue playing whichever sport offered him a college scholarship. A number of Division I-AA football coaches and a few mid-major basketball recruiters are reportedly evaluating him.

"It's a goal for me to play either football or basketball in college," Mullen said. "It's definitely something I'm working for and aiming for."

One thing's for sure: No matter what he plays or where he plays, Dan Mullen will be making plays.



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