Jeff Mullen has been a college football coach for more than 20 years, but insists that his interests and status never had any impact on his son, Nate, when he participated on youth football teams or played school ball.
“In midget ball, I sat behind the fence in the end zone when all the parents were in the stands,” said Jeff, the Charlotte 49ers’ offensive coordinator. “In middle school, I’d sit on the visitors side where there was nobody. We’d go to the high school games (at Hickory Ridge) … and I’d sit up in the corner with my hoodie on.”
Starting this football season, it will be more difficult for the two Mullens to stay apart. They’ll be a part of the same team.
Nate is a member of the 49ers freshman class, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound slot receiver in his father’s offense. It’s possible he’ll redshirt this season but Jeff says his son has a lot of upside.
Nate always loved playing football but Jeff says it was never at his encouragement. As Nate became a star in high school, Jeff insisted that if he was recruited, it would be by Nate’s merit, not because of his father’s connections.
Hickory Ridge head coach Marty Paxton substantiates this story, adding that Jeff never asked to be involved with his team though he gave his support from the outside looking in.
Nate was always good enough on his own.
At Hickory Ridge, he was named as a WSOC-TV Big 22 player to watch prior to the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
With Paxton utilizing him as much as possible, Nate was an all-purpose threat as a slot receiver. He could run the ball and catch and was even occasionally asked to throw the ball out of the Ragin’ Bulls’ triple-option offense.
Nate was offered scholarships by Charlotte and Gardner-Webb and he received interest from other schools. He accepted Charlotte’s offer last summer before his senior season, saying it was a good fit.
Nate was born in Ohio but during his youth the Mullens spent time in Winston-Salem and Morgantown, W. Va., as Jeff served as an assistant at Wake Forest and West Virginia. Jeff was the first assistant hired by Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert after he was tabbed to get the 49ers’ new program off the ground.
Everywhere his dad coached, Nate occasionally tagged along at games and practices. Last season, Nate says he attended every Charlotte home game and all but one contest on the road.
“I admired all of (Charlotte’s players),” Nate said. “I’ve always followed all the players my dad coached. I always wanted to be one of them one day. Being here, there were a lot of players I wanted to be like and I looked up to them. Now I’m a part of them, which is an awesome feeling for me.”
He particularly admired Charlotte receiver Austin Duke, whose 5-foot-9, 171-pound build and eagerness to play hard mimics Nate’s build and style of play.
Nate began attending classes during the summer and started working out with the team in early July. He loves the college football lifestyle – the practices, attending meetings, having to sign in at dinner so the coaching staff knows he properly ate.
Jeff, who coaches the team’s quarterbacks, says his and Nate’s paths barely cross during football exercises. When they are together, away from football, he says they talk more about school and college life than football.
The UNC Charlotte campus is a 10-minute drive from the Mullens’ Harrisburg home. Nate is just as happy about his fit on the Charlotte football team as he is about the opportunity to visit his mother, Andrea, and his sisters Rami and Maggie, both Hickory Ridge students.
“I thought coming in, I would have a chance to watch and teach (him),” said Jeff. “But I really haven’t been around him that much. It seems unusual, but it’s a little bit normal. It’s exciting to have him around, no question. I’m really grateful for that opportunity.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.