With his combination of size and strength, Isaiah Mullens became a nightmare for opposing coaches shortly after he began competing for the Harvest Preparatory School football team as a freshman.

The 6-foot-6, 278-pound senior rarely leaves the field for the Warriors. He typically is triple-teamed when he plays at strong-side defensive end, has proven to be a pass-catching and blocking weapon at tight end and serves as what coach Milan Smith calls a "wedge buster" on special teams because of his blocking and tackling abilities.

It isn't exactly what was envisioned for Mullens when he was born prematurely at 26 weeks, weighing a little more than two pounds.

"The doctors thought I was going to be in a wheelchair the rest of my life, but God had a different plan for me," Mullens said. "I was a premature baby and I had brain bleeds, a collapsed lung, two hernia repairs. I had all kinds of stuff wrong with me.

"When I was probably 1 or 2, I was in a car with my mom and they didn't know I could talk. I was learning how to walk and talk real late, and I loved my pacifier and said, 'Where's my 'fier at?' They said, 'You can talk?' They knew I was really special."

Despite his early health issues, Mullens remembers being the biggest in his class as long ago as preschool.

He had issues because of how quickly his body was growing when he got to high school and battled injuries early in his prep career, but since then, little has stopped him from helping Harvest Prep develop into a Division VII state power.

Harvest Prep is 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the MSL-Cardinal Division after beating Zanesville Rosecrans 50-14 on Sept. 22. The Warriors lost to Rosecrans 54-47 in a non-league game last year, but the Bishops moved into the MSL-Cardinal this season.

After losing all three of its non-league games but reaching a state semifinal a year ago, Harvest Prep opened this season with back-to-back wins before losing to Mifflin 55-48 on Sept. 8.

Mullens had two touchdown catches in a 52-3 win over Worthington Christian on Sept. 15 and had a touchdown reception against Rosecrans that gave Harvest Prep a 22-0 lead in the first quarter.

Mullens also has two two-point conversions this season.

Defensively, he had 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and four pass breakups through four games.

One of his biggest moments offensively came last season during a 40-37 victory over Shadyside in the first round of the Region 27 playoffs when he scored on a 41-yard reception that proved to be the winning touchdown.

"His mom showed me some pictures of him when he was born, where he's in the nurse's hand and his body is about the size of the nurse's hand," coach Milan Smith said. "He's pretty big (now). The most important thing is that he has a strong faith in Christ and he has a terrific work ethic. He's going to be terrific in life because he has a strong faith.

"He's a four-year starter. He's off to quite the start this year. He gets triple-teamed, and teams are always running away from him."

Mullens considered basketball his favorite sport growing up and originally didn't plan to play football past his freshman year.

"(Smith) said if you stick with me and do what you've got to do, you can take it wherever you want to go, and at first I didn't believe him," Mullens said. "When I started getting looks and (scholarship) offers, the trust gradually started to pick up."

Mullens has developed into a three-star prospect and the No. 22-ranked strong-side defensive end in the nation from the 2018 class, according to 247sports.com. He has received 14 offers, including ones from Iowa and Indiana, but committed to Wisconsin on May 16.

"I developed a great relationship with the head coach (Paul Chryst), went there and just fell in love with it," Mullens said of Wisconsin. "It was a great experience. I enjoyed the facilities, the coaches, players, just how hard they worked. They're a hard-working team. It was just a no-brainer that I had to pick it.

"I've been thinking about this hard, and I'll probably (study to become a) veterinarian or physical therapy. I just like animals. Even when I was growing up, I liked the wildlife and the animals. I was a weird kid."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek