The historic 2021 Mountaineer Football season has officially come to a close, and Top o’ the World is running a short “senior spotlight” stories highlighting Western players who are either graduating, or have one year of eligibility remaining due to covid-19 eligibility rules. Our second story features senior defensive back Tim Mullin.
A Business Administration major and Business Law minor, Tim Mullin is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys skiing and fly fishing, Mullin is in his first year of the 3+2 Outdoor Recreation Industry Masters of Business Administration (MBA) Program, which prepares its cohort of Western students for careers in the growing field of outdoor-related business ventures, including tourism management and outdoor gear production and sales.
On the field, Tim Mullin is also a redshirt senior safety for the Mountaineers, but will have one year of eligibility remaining due to Covid-19 eligibility rules. Roughly half a decade ago, Mullin was a standout two-way player at Columbine High School, rushing for over 2000 yards and 20 touchdowns as a running back, and amassing nearly 250 career tackles on his way to becoming a two-time All-Conference linebacker.
At Western, Mullin began seeing significant playing time for the Mountaineers in his redshirt freshman season in 2018, recording 27 tackles (18 solo) and nabbing two interceptions. In 2019, Mullin upped his tackling total to 46 (30 solo), and again notching two interceptions.
Fast forward to 2020, when the Mountaineers were playing their first game of the pandemic-blighted season against Division-I FCS Squad Stephen F. Austin University, who had already played seven games, on the road in Texas. “We just got killed, and that was kind of a wake up call for a lot of us, ” says Mullin.
“We were missing some of the older guys that have played, and [so] it was a lot of younger guys getting experience.” The Mountaineers fell to the Lumberjacks 64-7. “It kinda left a bad taste in our mouth, so we were kinda hungry,” says Mullin of the Mountaineer’s lone 2020 game.
Heading into the offseason, the team bond grew closer as the pandemic continued and the team looked towards 2021. Winter workouts at the newly installed Katy O. Rady Field played a big role in Mullin’s mind. “It was crazy, it was like -4 [degrees Fahrenheit] out, and we were outside at 6 a.m. just working…It was just kind of a big moment for us. This is what we do, this is our brand: its grit.”
By this point, the scrappy Mountaineers squad that rebounded from a 2-9 2018 season into an improved 5-6 2019 campaign had matured. The roster was chock full of senior leadership: fourth, fifth and even sixth year guys primed for a standout season. Senior players included defensive end Will Lydle, linebacker Lane Farris, wide receiver James Bryant, and of course, safety Tim Mullin.
“It wasn’t necessarily that we were the most physical or most athletic group, but since we worked together through that Covid season, I think that was a big part of [our success]”, says Mullin. Mullin, despite his strong high school play, was not heavily recruited within the state. But Western believed in him, and Mullin decided to come play for the Mountaineers.
“I think Western does a good job of seeing the potential in people,” Mullin says, highlighting the strong eye for talent and relationship-building that Western coaches demonstrate with prospective Mountaineers, which he notes begins early and continues consistently throughout the recruiting process. That engagement and belief meant a lot to Mullin, who acknowledges that Western does not always have the most highest-end athletic facilities on offer.
“Everybody gets a fair shot here. There’s not a whole lot of politics when it comes to coaching and playing time” he says. Mullin recognised similar recruiting stories up and down the Mountaineers roster, noting that many of Western’s players were not the fastest or biggest guys on high school fields, key attributes that get you easily noticed by collegiate recruiters. “We just beat all those other teams that recruit the bigger, the faster, the stronger [players],” says Mullin with a smirk.
Mullin played linebacker in high school, and came to Gunnison as an outside linebacker prospect, but made the transition to playing safety at the collegiate level. “We have a trust in our coaches that they are gonna put us in a position to win…Whether I believe this is where I should be [positionally] or not, my coaches do, and my coaches have winning in their best interest. So if that’s what’s going to put me in a position to play, to win, to perform, then I’m all about it,” said Mullin of the position swap.
A key component of Mullin’s success on the gridiron is his wrestling background. On top of football, Mullin was an All-Conference wrestler in high school, and qualified for the state championship. His wrestling days are still fresh on his mind when he patrols the backfield for the Mountaineers.
“A lot of times you don’t see football as a one-on-one sport, but every play you have to beat your one-on-one [matchup], and wrestling I think instilled that mindset into me. I was that guy on the mat and it was just one other guy” says Mullin. Wrestling, and the muscle memory linked to wrestling moves, contribute to Mullin’s tackling prowess nowadays. Mullin also partially attributes his relatively clean health record over his football career to excellent body control that traces back to the wrestling mat.
Reflecting on the historically strong 2021 campaign, Mullin is still processing, “We just had never been in the positions we were in continuously throughout the season,” he says, “Each game that we won was a new territory…we just had to put things into perspective and take things one game at a time, one practice at a time, one moment at a time”.
Mullin adds that the coaching staff had a critical role in keeping the team laser-focused on the next opponent. “Coach Bains kept saying: ‘there is gonna be a time to celebrate what you’ve done, but that time has not come yet.”
Mullin and his teammates felt the elation of winning a share of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) championship back in November, but had to rally around an even bigger goal almost immediately: the Division-II playoffs, and more specifically, their pre-Thanksgiving home matchup against the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Now that the season is over following a heart-wrenching 31-24 loss against the Lopers, the Mountaineers have time to reminisce and fully celebrate their conference championship. “You see the clock run down at the end of the game, and I’ve been here for five years now, and that’s what our goal was [winning the RMAC championship], and it finally came true…it was a surreal moment,” says Mullin.
In 2021, recorded 50 total tackles (three for a loss), broke up six passes, and forced two fumbles. For his individual efforts this season, Mullin was awarded RMAC Honorable Mention, and will look to improve his personal end-of-year standing in 2022.
Looking beyond himself, it’s critical in Mullin’s eyes that the Mountaineers remember how the great successes of 2021 were possible at all. The snippets from the season that stood out most to him were critical in-game turning points where the defense covered for the offense, or vice versa.
“In the [New Mexico] Highlands game, we couldn’t get a grip, we couldn’t stop em’. We were just getting all down on ourselves, we were like ‘we’re sorry’, and our offense was like ‘no, it’s all good’…and they came out and they bailed [the defense] out,” Mullin said, noting a recurrent theme throughout the team’s season. When the team struggled in one phase of the game, their teammates consistently carried the slack and found ways to win.
These days, Mullin is excitedly anticipating the possibilities of the 2022 season, which will be his last. In particular, he eagerly awaits a scheduled rematch with Colorado School of Mines, who beat the Mountaineers in overtime in Oct. 2021. The Orediggers went on to semifinals of the 28-team playoff, before losing to Valdosta St., the eventual runners-up. “So obviously that’s a game I want to play again, I’d play that tomorrow,” Mullin says.
Mullin notes that this Mountaineers squad now knows what success tastes like and how it is achieved. And so the goalpost moving forward has been raised: winning playoff games and testing the upper limits of the team and its culture.
To that end, Mullin anticipates that younger players will step into the shoes of the departing senior cohort and assume leadership roles in 2022 and beyond. “We’ve been there, okay, now what are we going to do next year?” ponders Mullin of the highly anticipated return of Mountaineer Football.