TUSCALOOSA, Ala.| He was already a big name wide receiver in a power five conference, but in the end, Richard Mullaney wanted more. The golden trophy Ohio State held after the 2014 season and the Southeastern Conference championship Alabama won, both caught his attention.
The tricky thing about graduate transfers is knowing who’s willing and ready to fit a particular system versus someone that’s out for personal gain. Rarely ever does a team acquire somebody that not only fits a need, but is also very talented at the position in question. Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide found a gold mine in getting Mullaney during the summer of 2015.
His journey to football is quite interesting to say the least. While most parents start their children young on the girdiron, Mullaney didn’t invest in football until he was in the eighth grade.
“I was a huge baseball player at the time,” Mullaney said.
“During my eighth grade year, I broke my thumb and ended up missing the whole season. One of my friends on the team actually convinced me to try out for football and it kind of took from there.”
Despite being a latecomer, Mullaney took to football as if he had played since Pop Warner League.
He attended Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High School, where he became a marquee name during his senior year in 2010. He grabbed a state-record 122 passes for 1,709 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns, leading the Lancers to the first-round of the playoffs. His output of 12 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown guided the team to a 28-21 win over Quartz Hill.
Mullaney received numerous accolades upon the end of his high school tenure, including Parade and U.S. Air Force All-American honors and first-team All-State honors from the Los Angeles Times All-Area. He was captivating on the field; however, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound target was not heavily recruited. A mere three-star prospect, Mullaney received offers from just six institutions.
He arrived at Oregon State in 2011 under coach Mike Riley, who was entering his 11th season with the program. After redshirting his freshman year, Mullaney saw action in 2012 as the backup to Markus Wheaton (now with Pittsburgh Steelers). He totaled 156 receiving yards and a touchdown on 13 catches, helping the Beavers notch a 9-4 record and a trip to the Alamo Bowl.
He would battle shoulder and toe problems as a redshirt sophomore, nevertheless, Mullaney became a favorite target of Sean Mannion in 2013. He finished second on the team in receptions (52) and receiving yards (788), while accounting for three touchdowns during the year.
Oregon State clinched its second winning season with Mullaney as a contributor, finishing at 7-6 after defeating Boise State 38-23 in the Hawaii Bowl. He returned in 2014 as the Beavers’ primary wide out, but a season-ending elbow injury would wipe out Mullaney’s junior year.
Regardless of the mishaps and eventually leaving for Alabama, he said he’ll always have love for Oregon State and how coach Riley groomed him to be the man he is today.
“Going to Oregon State helped me tremendously,” he said.
“To be able to compete with and be on the same team with guys like Sean Mannion, Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, I really appreciated that.”
He would bring a career that included 83 catches for 1,160 yards and five touchdowns to Tuscaloosa, but even with a culture change, Mullaney was determine to gain success.
Now at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, he was tabbed to be the “de facto” replacement for Cameron Sims in 2015. Sims, who enrolled as a four-star recruit in 2014, sustained season-ending knee injury in spring practice. Observing and adjusting were two things Mullaney studied at Oregon State.
He took both aspects to Alabama and flourished in an intense, winning environment.
“I didn’t pay much attention to the noise when I first came in,” Mullaney said. “I simply put my head down and worked. At Alabama, it doesn’t matter how many stars you have but it’s about how much are you willing to contribute.”
Coach Saban thought he was getting a contributor, but he gained an all out competitor.
Whether it was diving for passes, hurdling over defenders or making a crucial block downfield, Mullaney bought in and Alabama fans took notice. His two touchdowns against Ole Miss were part of a stellar comeback for the Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama would lose the game, but Jacob Coker found his third option behind Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart.
“I still get goosebumps from just thinking about the Ole Miss game,” Mullaney said.
“It was such an amazing feeling that I can’t put into words. Seeing my parents and my sister in the stands and my teammates showing me love after both touchdowns was amazing.”
The California native collected his third touchdown of the year against Arkansas and his fourth against Charleston Southern, in which he elevated over a defensive back to bring the ball in.
Mullaney’s fifth and final touchdown in a Crimson Tide uniform was special.
He caught a nine-yard bullet in the back of the end zone against Florida in the 2015 Southeastern Conference Championship Game. Coker threaded the ball between two defenders and Mullaney brought it in for a touchdown, helping Alabama secure a 29-15 win and a trip to the College Football Playoff. Derrick Henry, O.J. Howard and Kenyan Drake stole the show in the 2016 CFP national championship game against top-ranked Clemson, but Mullaney finally obtained what he wanted.
The former three-star recruit earned both a conference championship and a national title in the same season. He ended the year with 38 catches for 390 yards and five touchdowns, but more so than that, Mullaney gained a second home in Alabama’s fan base.
“I felt like I was in one of those movies, where everything comes out right,” he said.
“It was a dream come true to play in both championship games and to celebrate moments with my parents and the fans. What made this possible was that we had a close knit team. We didn’t want to let the team down, our fans down nor disappoint the coaching staff.”
He was not selected through seven rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, but Mullaney found a home with the Houston Texans. He signed as an undrafted free agent, and is already adjusting to the personalities of head coach Bill O’Brien and his teammates.
“Coach O’Brien is a lot like Coach Saban,” Mullaney said. “He treats his players like family and he wants to win. He’s big on hard work on wants everyone in the organization to be recognized.”
As far as finding his niche goes, Mullaney continues to observe the older players.
“All the older guys have been helpful at my position, but Cecil Shorts III and DeAndre Hopkins both stand out,” he said.
“Both guys constantly ask about how I’m doing and progressing in the playbook. Brock Osweiler has been a huge help as well, staying behind after practice to throw to us.”
His grind at Oregon State got him to Alabama to win a national championship. Now in the National Football League, all eyes will look upon how Mullaney will do at the next level.