Throughout Jimmy Mullen’s college recruiting process, there was always the lingering question of whether or not he would eventually have to make the difficult decision between football or wrestling as the sport he would compete in at the next level.
As fate would have it, Mullen won’t need to make a choice between the two any time soon.
Mullen, a Kearny native and two-sport star at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale recently committed to wrestle and play football at Virginia Tech.
According to Mullen, Virginia Tech was one of three schools that offered him the opportunity to compete in both sports simultaneously, the others being Rutgers and Army.
“It definitely takes a lot of weight off of my shoulders knowing I don’t have to give up a sport that I’ve been doing since I was 5-years-old,”Mullen said. “They’ve both been a big part of my life and done so much for me.
“As long as I can remember my favorite sport was football during the football season and wrestling during wrestling season.”
That Mullen was able to make a college commitment of this magnitude comes as little surprise to those in Kearny that have known him the longest. Current Kearny High School head coach Tony Carratura Jr. started coaching Mullen on the recreation level when he was 10, but knew of the legend of Mullen well before then thanks to his late father, Tony Sr., who worked with him when he was 5.
“My dad would always come home and say ‘you gotta see Jimmy! You gotta see this kid!’ and he would get pretty jacked up about him,”Carratura Jr. said. “My dad would be ecstatic about it right now because he always said Jimmy was going to be something. He really saw something special in him the moment he started coaching him.”
Since those early days at the Lincoln Middle School gym practicing with fellow Kearny native and current Cornell University star Jacob Cardenas under the tutelage of the Carraturas and current Kearny assistant Brian McDonnell, Mullen has developed into one of the country’s premier wrestlers.
Mullen became the first freshman to ever win the NJSIAA State Wrestling Championship at 285 pounds in 2020 when he defeated Southern Regional’s J.T. Cornelius for the title.
As a sophomore, during the COVID-shortened season, Mullen elected to forego the state tournament in order to try out for a spot on Team USA in the Junior World Championships. Mullen made the team and won silver at the event in Budapest.
Last season, as a junior, he once again won a state title at 285, defeating Bergen Catholic’s Dom Brogna by pin in the final.
Mullen enters his senior season as the nation’s top-ranked high school heavyweight wrestler and No. 5 overall by Flo Wrestling. The site also has Mullen as its top overall wrestler in New Jersey.
Even as wrestling has and will continue to take Mullen all over the world, he still makes sure to represent his home town at each tournament.
“I represent Kearny wherever I go,” Mullen said. “Every tournament from states to when I compete nationally I always carry a Kearny shirt with me.
“Jacob and Coach Tony have done so much for me on the wrestling mat for me. I always know that’s where I started. It’s not all St. Joseph or the national tournaments, it’s been the Lincoln Middle School gym.”
While wrestling has made the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Mullen a national figure, it has perhaps resulted in him being under the radar as a football recruit. This season, Mullen, in his third year as a starter, has 71 tackles, including 26 for loss, and 7 ½ sacks for the Green Knights heading into their NJSIAA Non-Public A quarterfinal game against Seton Hall Prep.
Rivals has Mullen ranked as the No.26 player in New Jersey and Lyndhurst’s David McCarthy of The McCarthy Report described Mullen as a “Super-impressive young athlete.
“At defensive end, Jimmy is brutally strong and physical at the point of attack and can set the edge against anyone.”
Growing up, Mullen also played baseball, basketball and soccer as well. Soccer then basketball were the first two to go by the wayside. While Carratura said he was just as good at baseball as he was at wrestling and football, Mullen decided to shift his focus away from it heading into high school.
“I knew when I got to high school I really wanted to focus on these two sports (football and wrestling). I think these are my favorite two that I truly love and I wanted to get after it,” Mullen said. “If I just kept my focus on both sports, I figured I’d probably have the opportunity to do one or the other (in college). I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do both.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)