Around the Region
A focus on the family at UMHB
“We always joke that because I play defense and he coaches the receivers, that one of us is going to end up getting yelled at at the end of the day," said Baylor Mullins, a Cru defender whose dad is a coach on the team.
Baylor Mullins experienced a couple of different dynamics during his high school football career at Merkel High School in Texas.
His head coach was his father, which isn’t exactly out of the ordinary. A good number of players get the chance to be coached by their dad while in high school.
But his brother, who is 10 years older than Baylor, was also on the coaching staff.
Mullins admits they were tough on him at times, pushing him to be the best football player he could be, and looking back on the experience now, he said both helped shape him into the player he is today at Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“It was a big help being around those two,” said Mullins, a star defensive back for the Crusaders. “I would listen to them talk and learned a lot from them.”
Mullins said his brother, Jeremy, was particularly instrumental in his growth as a player.
“I give him a lot of credit for making me into the player I am today,” Mullins said. “He always pushed me and was there with me in the summer working with me to make me into a great football player. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
Mullins’ football connection with his father, Kieth, continues today. His dad is now the wide receivers coach for the Crusaders.
“It’s a lot of fun having him around here,” Mullins said. “We always joke that because I play defense and he coaches the receivers, that one of us is going to end up getting yelled at at the end of the day. He gives me advice about football, but he also talks me a lot about life lessons.”
Mullins has taken the advice to the heart, and maybe it’s why he’s considered one of the top defensive players in the ASC and why he has excelled for a Crusaders defense that is one of the best in the nation.
Mullins has been an All-ASC selection each year of his career and has played both linebacker and defensive back at UMHB. He’s also the punter.
Interestingly enough, he was recruited to play on the offensive side of the ball.
“They recruited me to play slot receiver,” Mullins said. “I got a call a couple of weeks before camp and was asked if I would play on defense. I told the coaches I’d do whatever I had to in order to get on the field as soon as possible.”
Some aren’t open to change. Mullins embraced it and hasn’t looked back. He was a second-team All-ASC linebacker as a freshman and a second-team All-ASC pick at punter and honorable mention selection at defensive back as a sophomore.
A year ago, Mullins was a first-team pick at defensive back and second-team selection at punter, recording 90 tackles and averaging 35.2 yards per punt.
His ability to play a variety of positions is hardly a surprise when you listen to him talk about what he played in high school.
“I went to a small high school so I played quarterback, wide receiver, kicker and punter,” Mullins said. “I did a little bit of everything. I think playing on offense helped make me a better defensive player.”
Mullins hasn’t missed a beat this year, ranking second on the team in tackles with 62. His effort helped propel UMHB to a conference championship and a berth in the NCAA playoffs.
He said he’s gotten faster and stronger in the offseason. When he’s asked to assess his play this season, his response is modest.
I’ve done alright,” Mullins said. “I’ve worked to be a leader on defense and have stepped up as a punter again. I just do whatever I can to help the team win.”
The Crusaders are no doubt winners, running the table in the ASC with a 6-0 record. They finished the regular season at 10-0 and are headed to the playoffs hoping to contend for a national title.
“Our expectations are high here and we all take a lot of pride in being successful,” Mullins said. “We don’t ever want to overlook anyone but we have a realistic goal of winning a championship.”
UMHB came close a year ago, losing 38-35 to Linfield in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA playoffs. The sting of the defeat has been a source of motivation all year.
“It definitely drives us but we know we have to take it one step at a time,” Mullins said. “This is the closest football team I’ve been on. We came together last spring and have been tight ever since.”
Mullins said anything less than a title will be disappointment. That’s how high the expectations are for the Crusaders.
In terms of his career at the school, it’s an experience he has no regrets about.
“It’s been a blessing,” Mullins said. “From the people I’ve met to the teammates I’ve had, to the success we’ve had, it’s been great. I know I’m fortunate to have the experiences I’ve had here.”
Bears clinch SAA crown
Success on the road is vital to winning a championship and Washington is proof of that after traveling to Illinois on Saturday and knocking off rival Chicago 43-34 to secure the SAA title and a berth in the NCAA playoffs for the third time in school history.
The Bears’ win over the Maroons is the fifth consecutive road victory of the year, the longest road winning streak since 2005. They finished 8-2 overall, with the eight wins marking the most in a single season for the Bears.
Washington got another big game from J.J. Tomlin, who threw for 483 yards and tied a school record with six touchdown passes. Matt Page caught nine passes from Tomlin, tying his career-high, and also scored twice.
Tomlin has thrown for more than 3,500 yards and 35 touchdowns this year, completing just over 64 percent of his passes, and Page has been one of his favorite targets, making 62 catches for 866 yards and 11 scores.
Ben Marcus rose to the occasion on defense, racking up 15 tackles and picking off two passes. Marcus is only a sophomore but has played a big role in the success the Bears have enjoyed, tying for the team lead in interceptions (four) and ranking second on the team in tackles (96).
Southwestern capped off a perfect season in the SCAC with a 35-31 win over Texas Lutheran on Saturday in its final game as a member of the conference. The Pirates are joining the ASC next year. Texas Lutheran is doing the same.
Kenneth Hicks connected with Kenneth Winn Jr. on an eight-yard scoring strike with 7:57 left in the game to give the Pirates the lead for good and put the exclamation point on their best season since resurrecting football in 2013. Southwestern won its final six games of the season.
Southwestern ends the year at 7-3 overall, winning four more games than it did in the last three seasons combined. Hicks played a pivotal role in the turnaround, throwing for nearly 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns, fueling an offense that scored 30 or more in five of its final six games.
The defense also stepped up, especially down the stretch when it recorded two shutouts in the final six games. The Pirates came through with a crucial stop in Saturday’s win over the Bulldogs when Nik Kelly picked off a fourth-down pass with 30 seconds left. The pick was the fourth of the year for Kelly, who finished his junior season with 32 tackles.
Impressive finish for the Lobos
For the first time since 2006, Sul Ross State finished with a winning record, closing out the season with a 47-18 win over East Texas Baptist. The Lobos, winners of two in a row, finish 6-4 overall and 4-4 in the ASC, marking the first time since 2012 Sul Ross State didn’t finish below .500 in the conference. The Lobos won as many games this year as they did in the last two years combined.
Sul Ross State took command with 30 unanswered points in the first half and never looked back as it knocked off one of the best teams in the ASC. James Davis was instrumental to the Lobos’ success, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another. Davis led Sul Ross in passing and rushing, throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns and running for a little over 500 yards and 10 scores.
Zack Roberson finished with seven tackles, helping Sul Ross hold its second consecutive opponent to under 20 points. The Lobos had only done that one other time this season.
Berry earned a share of its first SAA title Saturday with a 21-19 win over Centre. The Vikings (9-1) forced four turnovers and tallied a program-record nine sacks, with Mamandou Soumahoro leading the way. Soumahoro made seven tackles and racked up four sacks. He also forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble. He ends his junior year with 15 sacks and 47 tackles.
D’On Coofer of Rhodes turned in one of the best performances of his career, ringing up 10 tackles and two sacks. He also forced a fumble for the Lynx, who held off Millsaps 37-31 in double overtime. Coofer finishes his freshman season with 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Zach Trevino rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown as he helped Trinity close out its 2016 campaign with a 14-0 win over Trinity. The freshman running back finished second on the team in rushing, rolling up 280 yards. The touchdown was his first of the season for the Tigers.
Jaquan Hemphill broke the school record for all-purpose yards and touchdowns to help Hardin-Simmons roll past McMurry 47-17 in the final game of the regular season. Hemphill rolled up 344 yards, including 172 on the ground, and scored six touchdowns as the Cowboys improved to 9-1, maintained possession of the Wilford Moore Trophy and earned a postseason berth. Hemphill is only a sophomore but is the Cowboys’ leading rusher, racking up 837 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.
2014 columnist: Justin Goldberg
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen