Friday Night Hero: Salisbury’s Tevin Mullenax

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 26, 2017

By Mike London

SALISBURY  — They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Salisbury head coach Brian Hinson and defensive coordinator Mike Herndon aren’t insane. They watched the Hornets get plowed for 211 rushing yards on 37 carries by Donnovan Williams in a 27-0 loss to Ledford on Oct. 14, but they weren’t going to try the same thing again.

East Davidson’s Golden Eagles came to Salisbury’s Ludwig Stadium last Friday with a physical philosophy much like Ledford’s and with a star running back in Mason Burchette, who is highly regarded. Burchette weighs 205, bench-presses 325 and runs 4.5 40s. Lifting weights is his hobby. Judging by the size of his arms, it’s a hobby he’s been pursuing since kindergarten.

“We knew exactly what was coming and we knew they were going to try to run right over us,” Salisbury linebacker Tevin Mullenax said. “The game plan was stop the run. When you’re facing a team that wants to run, you have to make them throw.”

The Hornets committed everything to stopping the run. Everything. At least seven, usually eight, and occasionally nine in the box. Extra bodies up front, so every East Davidson offensive lineman had a defender to contend with. The linemen weren’t going to be able to get to the inside linebackers, and it was up those free backers, Mullenax and Nick Austin, to make tackles for loss or minimal gain.

“We just got over-powered by Ledford, learned lessons the hard way,” Herndon said. “Ledford was stronger than us and they just ran the ball downhill. We lost to Ledford in the weight room, and we didn’t want a repeat of that against East Davidson. And the Burchette kid is good. You want to try to take the best player away. We had to stop him.”

The Hornets’ game plan was putting a lot of faith in Mullenax, whose senior season came reasonably close to ending before it got started.

“We’re doing our preseason summer stuff, and Tevin wasn’t there for some of the workouts,” Hinson explained. “I was really starting to worry about him. Then he goes to the beach, and I remember calling him and telling him if he wasn’t here on Monday, just don’t bother. But he was here that Monday.”

That was fortunate. Mullenax is quite undersized for the position he plays (he’s 5-foot-7 and closer to 155 than his listed 170), but he has brawn and brains. He’s become instrumental for Salisbury’s defense. In a lot of ways, he’s the hub of a pretty sound defense.

“He’s our quarterback when we’re on defense,” Herndon said. “He always understands what we’re trying to do defensively, and that’s really important. He also that high motor. Tevin never takes a play off.”

On the first snap of the night, it looked like all the Hornets took a play off. Burchette churned and then he turned the right flank for 24 yards.

As soon as the chains moved, Burchette was coming again. But this time there was no hole — just a lot of Mullenax. No gain. Second-and-10.

Next snap. Burchette again. This time Salisbury’s manly freshman Isaiah Clay greeted him in the backfield for a 4-yard loss. On third-and-14, East Davidson threw incomplete, and the punting unit came on the field.

It was at about this time that Hinson saw Mullenax turn to the Salisbury sideline and flex his biceps like a champion pugilist.

“When Tevin gives us the flex, that means everything is all right,” Hinson said with a smile. “The flex is a good sign.”

In the first half, Burchette would be stopped behind the line of scrimmage four more times, with Mullenax, Clay, John Pruitt and Jabril Norman registering TFLs. When East Davidson tried to throw on a third-and-10, Norman blew off the edge for a sack.

With that stifling defense, the Hornets took a 6-3 lead to the break despite some serious offensive struggles.

“The defense we were playing, they were going to have to make three or four good blocks to get something,” Herndon said. “Someone always came free to make the tackle.”

East Davidson’s coaches aren’t insane, either. They adjusted to Salisbury’s defense. As the second half began, Burchette became a blocker, pass-protecting as QB Spencer Leonard looked to go to the air.

But the Hornet’s DBs, 1-on-1 on islands, didn’t falter often. Salisbury’s offense finally got untracked with a a big burst by Trell Baker, and the Hornets put up enough points to win.

Burchette managed runs of 14 and 15 yards in the second half.

“Whenever we tried our base defense, they gashed us pretty good,” Herndon said.

Mullenax was in on another tackle at the line of scrimmage in the second half. He also got a sack. The sack was his favorite play of the night because he got to show off his wheels instead of his guts.

“(Outside linebacker) Jadarius Wood came around the left side and got pressure on the quarterback,”Mullenax said. “He kind of ducked and avoided him, but then I came right up the middle and got the sack.”

When the smoke cleared, the dust settled and the blood dried, Burchette had a hard-earned 84 yards on 21 carries, and he’d earned the respect of the Hornets.

But the Hornets had done what they came to do. They’d contained Burchette, and they’d won a football game that wrapped up a playoff spot. The top three in the Central Carolina Conference are automatically in, and now the Hornets (6-2, 5-1) can’t do any worse than third.

“I tried to help keep our defense focused,” Mullenax said. “It’s a challenge when you’re 155 and the running back is 205, but it just comes down to all those hard practices and using the tackling techniques we work on every day.”

Hinson is in his first year as Salisbury’s head coach, but he watched a lot of film of last year’s 3-8 Hornets.

“Tevin was actually a pretty good linebacker last year,” Hinson said. “He was reading plays well and he was in the right place a lot. But he wasn’t necessarily making the tackle.  He was over-running plays. It was like he just couldn’t put the brakes on quickly enough.”

Tackling drills have helped cured that. Now Mullenax is a linebacker the Hornets know they can count on.

“He may be a small linebacker, but his heart is big,” Hinson said. “When I was in high school (at East Montgomery) I played with my cousin. He was undersized, but he was all over the field making plays. Tevin reminds me a lot of him.  Tevin plays with excitement, and that’s a good way to play.”