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Mueller Focuses on Becoming Best Player, Person He Can Be
Defensive end Ryan Mueller celebrates after recovering the ball during K-State's matchup with Baylor on October 12, 2013. (Photo by Scott Weaver)
July 18, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
Everyone loves a good Cinderella story, right?
You know, that unlikely hero who rises from what most would consider nothing to conquer giants; that David and Goliath story - those stories really get people on their feet.
Well, when it comes to K-State football, perhaps there is no better Cinderella story than last year's Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year, Ryan Mueller.
But then again, in my opinion, Mueller's story is so much more than that. Luck and good fortune had nothing to do with the success and accolades of the former walk-on turned Big 12 star. Mueller's success, though it may have surprised those outside looking in, came as no surprise to him. As a matter of fact, it is exactly what he expected - and continues to expect - from himself.
"To a certain extent it's kind of shocking to me," Mueller laughed to the media surrounding him as they asked if his recognition during 2013 came as a surprise, "but at the same time, I know I've worked extremely hard, so I've expected this success. I know if you work hard, good things will happen. This is where I believe all of my hard work has led to."
And work hard is exactly what he did in 2013. So hard that head coach Bill Snyder complimented him last season by saying he was among the hardest workers he's ever seen - and Snyder has seen a lot of players in his 22 seasons as the Wildcats' head coach.
"Nobody plays harder than Ryan Mueller. Nobody," the beloved coach said at a press conference during the 2013 season. "Nobody works harder than Ryan Mueller. Nobody."
Along with being named Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and earning second team All-America honors, Mueller also earned All-Big 12 First Team accolades and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week on two occasions. In addition, he tied the K-State record with 11.5 sacks and had 18 tackles for loss while also landing a spot on ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10 for his sack, strip and fumble recovery against Baylor.
His accolades have only continued to grow as he heads into the 2014 season as, for the first time in his career, he was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team - and his preseason honors don't just stop there. Mueller was recently named a nominee for the 2014 Allstate/American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team, a candidate for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Bednarik Award and the Lott IMPACT Trophy and to the Rotary Lombardi Award watch list.
So, this past spring, during the annual Purple vs. White Spring Game, perhaps it came as no surprise when Mueller was named one of the Wildcats five captains for the 2014 season.
"It's awesome; it's been such a journey for me coming through this program, so I'm just forever grateful for the opportunity that Coach Snyder has given me," said Mueller. "He definitely didn't make it easy for me by any means, but it's been worth it. I've worked extremely hard for it."
While Mueller may have seen his fair share of personal success on the field last season, he said he is not stopping there and has even bigger plans for 2015.
"Last season was a great year for me with a lot of personal accolades," he began, "but I've turned the page and the question now is: What am I going to do this year? I'm getting myself in the best shape to outdo last year's performance and be the best player I can possibly be."
His hard work ethic and personality spreads to those around him, too.
"Ryan Mueller, people really look up to him. Young guys look up to him," said senior defensive end Laton Dowling.
Mueller has made looking out for the younger guys on the Wildcats' team another objective of his. As a former walk-on himself, he knows what many of his young teammates are going through and tries his best to lend a helping hand.
"I look to those guys a lot and try to guide them along and help them through the program," explained Mueller. "I was just like them when I was younger, and I want to see all those guys have success in this program and earn scholarships just like me."
Along with polishing his performance on the field and looking out for his teammates, Mueller has also found the time to create a very special friendship.
While Mueller's relationship with nine-year-old Kaiden Schroeder took national recognition after Schroeder ran in a 30-yard touchdown in the K-State spring game, their relationship goes back much further than that.
Schroeder has been battling Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia since May of 2009, and has formed a special friendship with Mueller after the two met in January of 2013. Mueller and Schroeder exchange phone calls before every game, write letters to each other and help each other out when they need to be strong.
And on April 26, when Schroeder ran in a Wildcat touchdown thanks to the planning of Mueller, it came as no surprise that he was wearing a No. 44 jersey - just like his friend and favorite player.
"It was awesome, a great experience, especially for Kaiden, it was something Kaiden will remember for the rest of his life," Mueller said after the game.
After the spring game, Schroeder and Mueller jogged off the field together and sat next to each other in the locker room where Schroeder had his own locker waiting for him right next to Mueller's.
A teammate, friend and hard worker, there is no doubt that during the 2014 season Mueller will take his role of captain seriously. He aspires to be the best player he can possibly be and has high hopes of helping his team continue its success into the new season.
"It all goes back to: How good of a player do you want to be for this program?" he concluded. "Are you willing to put the time in? To dedicate yourself to every film session? Every time a coach - your position coach or Coach Snyder - is speaking to you personally, are you going to take advantage of that? Then, you have to apply that to every single rep you do in practice.
"All of that evolves to you being a better player."