By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
As far as debuts go, Southern Miss true freshman Nick Mullens’ first start at quarterback was forgettable. He did throw a pair of touchdown passes, but was also intercepted three times, fumbled twice after getting sacked and admittedly made his share of mistakes.
His body might have been a little sore after getting sacked four times and throwing the football 31 times — he had thrown 23 passes on the season combined before last Saturday’s 55-14 loss to North Texas. But his head wasn’t hanging after the game.
“I think he’s got tremendous mental toughness,” first-year Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. “He’s a smart player. I think he’s accurate. I think he’s got leadership qualities and I think we’ve done a good job of just talking about the next play. We’re building. You can’t do anything about the last play; go to the next play. All these opportunities that you’re going to get — practice and reps you’re getting during the game — you’re only going to build on. I think he gets that.”
Reporters seemed impressed with the way Mullens carried himself after the game, answering questions about his performance. That says something, considering this time last year he was a senior in high school.
Mullens (6-foot-1, 188 pounds) led Spain Park (Ala.) High to 10 wins and the school’s first-ever region title. He was the Gatorade Alabama Football Player of the Year after throwing for 3,649 yards and 40 touchdowns. The yardage was fifth most in state history, and his 8,605 career yards are seventh all-time.
“Your experience in high school, a big high school helps, but, dealing with the whole process, it is great,” Mullens said after the game. “God bless the opportunity to go out and lead the team as a freshman but, at the end of the day, you still have to win. I am just working my hardest to do that.”
Mullens took it all in stride, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be striving to improve when the Golden Eagles (0-7, 0-3 Conference USA) visit Marshall (4-3, 2-1) at noon Saturday.
“I think at that moment (postgame press conference) he was probably able to collect himself,” Monken said. “Would I say that during the game he wasn’t frustrated with some of the mistakes because he’s a prideful guy? No ... But I think he understands it’s a process as we move forward as a team.
“He’s not only smart, he’s football smart. He gets it. It’s like having a coach on the field.”
— E-mail: gfauber@