BLOOMINGTON —There are football moms, and then, there are football playing moms.
Indiana freshman defensive back Tiawan Mullen comes from impressive football bloodlines. His cousin, Lamar Jackson, won the Heisman Trophy at Louisville and is now the quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. His older brother, defensive back Trayvon Mullen, was defensive MVP of the 2019 College Football Playoff title game for Clemson before being picked in the second round by the Oakland Raiders in last April's NFL Draft.
But Mullen said he considers his mom, Lucretia Peterman, one of his first football influences.
"The best coach was my mother," Mullen said.
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Mullen said he began playing Pee Wee football at age 4. A football was always in his hand. Mullen said his mom let him play football in and around the house, and would show him a few pointers.
A former high school track sprinter, Peterman decided to give football a try herself, playing for the Miami Fury in a semi-pro, tackle women's football league. Peterman played safety and running back for the team in 2009 when she was in her early 30s, a few months after her younger brother, Ollie, died on New Year's Day.
"It was something for myself because I had just lost my brother," Peterman said. "So in order for me not to think and worry about certain things I just applied myself to the football team, so that any pressure or any stress that I had, I would just go out there and just work it off."
A single mom, Peterman raised her four sons to look out for one another and stay out of trouble. Nathaniel Watson Jr., Tiawan's oldest brother, was the academic whiz, Peterman said. Trayvon starred at Coconut Creek High School before landing a scholarship at Clemson, and his younger brother soon followed in his footsteps. Their youngest brother, Trevell Mullen, just completed his sophomore year at Coconut Creek and recently received his first scholarship offer from Oregon.
Peterman was always on watch, worried about different influences in the neighborhood where the family grew up. She said she wouldn't have hesitated to call the police if she spotted anyone trying to lead any of her sons down the wrong path. Thankfully, she said, she never had to do it.
"Those kids might not be wanting what my kids want, and those parents are probably parents who can get their kids everything," Peterman said. "So, I'm not saying there weren't challenges for my kids, but I taught my kids what was valued, and what was important.
"I made them want for more. I made them hope for more."
A U.S. Army All-American out of high school, Mullen has set his own lofty goals at IU. Mullen said by the time his college career is over, he wants to win the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back.
"My brother won the defensive MVP in the national championship game," Mullen said. "My cousin won the Heisman. My next job is to try to win the Jim Thorpe award. It can be done anywhere and I feel like I can do it at Indiana."
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Mullen displayed his big-play ability during his senior year at Coconut Creek with four interceptions, two forced fumbles and 45 tackles. IU football coach Tom Allen values players who can create turnovers, and has assembled a deep secondary led by safety Bryant Fitzgerald and cornerbacks A'Shon Riggins and Andre Brown Jr.
"We'll have great energy in the secondary, back end," Mullen said. "We'll have some great, physical guys."
Mullen said he's had belief in his ability since he first stepped on the football field.
"There's a difference between arrogant and confident," Mullen said. "I'm on the confident side. I want to win every rep. I want to win every game."
Like his older brother, Mullen said he wasn't interested in staying within the state and playing for one of the three state powerhouses — Miami, Florida or Florida State. Instead, urged by his mother, Mullen saw Indiana as a chance to get away and flourish in new surroundings.
"It was just meant to be here and I feel like Coach Allen has a great program," Mullen said. "We're building and I feel like we're going to change it around."