“I’ve been here for four years and I’ve enjoyed it,” Mullins told Inside Carolina on Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve enjoyed this campus and the university has been good to me. But it’s time to move on. That’s how I feel right now. Nothing’s really changed at all. I just feel like my time is up here and it’s time to move on.”
Mullins’ story has been a unique one ever since signing with the Tar Heels over finalists Tennessee and Auburn in front of a national television audience on Feb.1, 2006. The Caruthersville, Mo. native started the roller-coaster ride between UNC and the NCAA that Dwight Jones and Kevin Reddick would later join.
Following the completion of a handful of classes at Wendell (N.C) East Wake to finalize his transcript after moving from his home state of Missouri during high school, Mullins was informed that he had qualified in July of 2006. But the NCAA called back on Aug. 24th – less than 10 days before the season opener against Rutgers – and informed him that he had not actually met the necessary requirements.
The 6-foot-3 tackle received a waiver from the NCAA Initial Eligibility Waiver Committee that allowed him to practice with the team during the ’06 season, although he was not eligible to play. Because of those theatrics, Mullins entered the ’09 season as a senior academically, but was on track to earn an additional year back by meeting academic performance benchmarks.
The effervescent senior accomplished those requirements and will only have to complete a three-hour seminar class in the spring to earn his degree in African-American studies.
“It’s been a long time coming, so I’m glad,” Mullins said of his graduation.
So what’s the next stop for the talented tackle that has amassed 14 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss this season?
“The NFL combine and the preparation that comes along with it,” said Mullins, who will turn 24 several weeks before the 2010 NFL Draft. “If God’s willing and I’m able to do that, then that’s the road that I’m going to be headed down.”
With starting defensive tackle Cam Thomas in his final year of eligibility and fellow starter Marvin Austin possibly leaving early for the NFL, it was thought that Mullins would return in 2010 to anchor UNC’s defensive line as a fifth-year senior.
He did consider that elevated role for next season, but it boiled down to a personal decision. It helped that Mullins didn’t believe his departure would damage UNC’s defensive capabilities in ’10.
“With me staying or going, I feel like it doesn’t hurt this team at all,” Mullins said. “Because we’ve got a lot of great players and we’ve got a lot of great coaches and they’re all good recruiters. So they’re going to fill the void, wherever that may be, so that shouldn’t be a problem at all.”
Arriving at that opinion involves both defensive line coach John Blake and a pair of young defensive tackles waiting in the wings – freshman Jared McAdoo and red-shirt sophomore Jordan Nix.
“With a great coach like Coach Blake, he can teach you just about anything you need to know if you’re teachable,” Mullins said. “So we’ve got two young big guys that are ready to step in and contribute. It shouldn’t be a problem, especially with Coach Blake being able to recruit like he can – I know he’s going to get some freaks in here – so I don’t think it will be a problem at all.”
Mullins also provided a scouting report on his potential replacements.
“Jordan Nix is a great athlete,” Mullins said. “He’s got great feet; he’s very light on his feet. He’s very quick and agile to be his size, and he can run. The same with McAdoo. When he first came in, I remember him as a big guy with a big ole pot belly. But when we came in here and jumped our vertical, he jumped like a 32” or 33”. So we’ve got some great athletes that are very explosive and can contribute right now.”
And while the fortunes of professional football hopefully await in his future, Mullins is dedicated to finishing his final season in Chapel Hill off with three more victories. The downside is that his days at North Carolina are growing thin – a fact that became even more evident last Saturday while standing on the Kenan Stadium field and hearing his name announced as a Tar Heel senior.
“It was really special,” Mullins said. “For me, I thought that day would never come, that it would never happen. Coming from where I came from and to be here and just to be able to run out there on the field was a blessing. To have it happen – I really enjoyed it. It meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to my godparents. It meant so much.”