Nate Mullens did some deep thinking after suffering three concussions in football. Tyler Doerrer concluded one less sport was his best way to reach his dreams. The Hoover and Green rivals can't wait to kick off the starting blocks in Branin Natatorium.

The Federal League lost two good football players and gained two swimmers going for the gold.

Juniors Nate Mullens of Hoover and Tyler Doerrer of Green are among the fastest of the fast who will compete Friday and Saturday in the OHSAA state swim meet.

Both were immersed in football and swimming before deciding to pour all of their athletic energies into the pool.

Mullens set a Stark County record in the 50-yard freestyle Saturday in winning a district title. He is seeded No. 1 heading into Friday's Division I prelims in C.T. Branin Natatorium.

Doerrer was district champ in the 200 freestyle and was barely edged by Mullens while both advanced to state in the 100 free.

Mullens was a tight end, defensive end and special teams mainstay as a sophomore on Hoover's 2015 football team. His football future got cloudy before the season began.

"I had three concussions playing football, and they were all severe," said Mullens, 6-foot-3 and powerfully built.

The third concussion knocked him out of a 2015 practice game against Mentor.

"I honestly don't remember much about it," Mullens said. "I don't remember much about the week after that. I missed a couple of games."

Mullens grew up with football, swimming, and a father who frequently reminded him, "Never let anyone out-work you."

He first played tackle football in third grade.

As for his start in swimming …

"My grandma, Maggie Mullens, lives on Meyers Lake," he said. "When I was little, she said, 'You've got to learn how to swim.

"It was 11 years ago when I got into competitive swimming. I loved it. The love has never stopped."

Football ended with deep thought and long talks, including with Hoover football coach Brian Baum.

"Coach Baum is an amazing coach," Mullens said. "I appreciate him saying, 'I'll do whatever it takes to make you play football. I love having you on the field.' He was really nice about it.

"Ultimately I talked to him about the concussions. He was very understanding.

"It's a whole new era with awareness of concussions. They're are a serious thing. I'm going to live with my brain for the rest of my life. Swimming is a low-impact sport, and I love it. It's my passion right now."

Mullens and Doerrer were one-one-hundredth of a second apart (45.45-45.46) in their district 100-yard freestyle race. They aren't far apart in terms of paths to the state meet.

Doerrer's family moved to Green as he approached his grade-school years.

"Green had a new youth swim team, and my mom said, 'You want to try that?'" he said.

He tried other sports. He couldn't get the hang of basketball. He was better at lacrosse. Football and swimming emerged as the sports he considered heading into his freshman year.

"I loved football," he said. "It was swimming or football. The guys on the football team were great, but I didn't fit in with them quite as well as I did with them like I fit in with the swimming team."

Making something happen at a state swim meet became Doerrer's goal line. He got a taste as a sophomore in 2016, placing 11th in the state meet in the 200 free, and some inspiration when since-graduated Dominic Poletta was state runner-up in the 50 free.

"I really wanted to do well in football, just like I wanted to do well in swimming," he said.

Hoover head swim coach Matt Johnsen says dropping a sport was "a tough decision" for Mullens.

"He's built to play football," Johnsen said. "He looked at his future and decided he wanted to swim in college. Every football practice meant one less swimming practice, and every football game meant possible injury. He made the tough choice."

Johnsen and Doerrer's coach at Green, Mike Lazor, were Hoover swimmers during he same era.

In the late 1980s, swimming became Lazor's winter sport after he was cut by the basketball team. Lazor was a sophomore when Hoover placed second in the 1988 boys state meet.

"I think Tyler was looking at it as being able to invest everything he has in the sport he chose," Lazor said. "There's something really unique about swimming that only swimmers can relate to. It's a very unique bond throughout the year.

"You go through a lot of pain to get a lot of gain, and he enjoys the work aspect."

The district meet was a payday.

For Mullens, in addition to lowering the Stark County record to 20.45 in winning the 50 free and going fast in the 100, he led off the district-championship 200 free relay, in front of Vincent Stevens, Christopher Watson and Seth Brown.

Doerrer swam a district-title time of 1:40.72 in the 200, notably better than his 2016 state time of 1:42.18. Another Doerrer race to watch is the boys 400 freestyle relay, which includes his younger brother Mason as well as Luke Miller and Andrew Rohweder.

Giving up football freed up Doerrer to do the year-round work almost all of the top swimmers in the state meet have put in.

Call it "keeping up with the Xaviers."

"Everyone else is doing it, so you have to, but it's more than that," Doerrer said. "If you don't put in the effort, dedication and time, mentally you're not going to be ready.

"When you're behind the starting block to get ready for that race, you think about how hard it's going be when you jump in. You'll want to quit because it hurts so much.

"You think back to all those hours you put in, all the dedication. And you really think, 'Is it worth it to quit now? You built up everything to this moment, and you're going to quit?'"

Mullens puts in simpler terms. "The decision" was largely about chasing a state championship this week.


Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP