A Special Bond
They played all afternoon. The score on the game was close, however, before long - touchdown Kaiden! - and just like that, the nine-year-old took the lead.
Kaiden laughed. It isn't his first touchdown, he reminded Mueller.
Mueller's busy football schedule allowed him only one day in Philadelphia this summer to visit his friend undergoing cancer treatments, so the duo made the most of their time doing what they love: hanging out together.
Mueller and Kaiden's relationship is special. It's a bond created by a single hospital visit back in January 2013, but, over time, it has blossomed into something bigger.
"It's just been fun, I don't know how else to describe it," said Kaiden's mom, Jenny Schroeder about her son's relationship with Mueller. "Kaiden has so much fun with Ryan, even if it's just talking to him on the phone. To Kaiden, Ryan is on TV, everybody knows Ryan; so he's like this big celebrity."
Five years ago, when Kaiden was just four years old, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Since then, it has been a long and strenuous road for the Schroeders filled with visits to and from of the hospital. Kaiden has been strong through chemo treatments and he's been strong through the many birthdays and Christmases he has had to spend in the hospital. He's been strong through spinal taps and bone marrow transplants and surgeries.
Even when he doesn't feel good, Kaiden Schroeder has been strong.
So this summer, when Kaiden and his family packed up and headed east so Kaiden could undergo treatments at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - he continued to be strong. During his visit in Philadelphia for treatments, Kaiden was admitted to the hospital for nearly 10 days after spiking a fever. It got so bad he wound up spending two days in the hospital's ICU.
Those weren't easy days, yet regardless of circumstances, Kaiden stayed strong through it all and after an entire month in Philadelphia, the Schroeders finally began hearing good news.
In the beginning of July, Kaiden underwent a new T Cell Treatment. He became one of only 30 children to use this new method of leukemia treatment, and while Jenny said no one is completely certain what the future holds, right now things are looking good for her son.
On July 3, Kaiden was reported in complete remission and 100 percent cancer free.
"This is the face of a kid who is 100% leukemia free today!" Jenny wrote on Kaiden's CaringBridge.org journal next to a photo of Kaiden sporting a huge smile. "While we don't know what tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year holds...today we celebrate that Kaiden is in complete remission and has been cleared to go HOME!"
Hearing the news put a smile on Muller's face. Excited to hear the words "Kaiden" and "cancer free" in the same sentence, Mueller wasted no time sharing the news with his teammates.
"It's huge, he has been a huge motivation for me," Mueller said. "Kaiden's been able to motivate not only me to see the bigger picture, but my teammates also. He's had such a huge impact on a lot of guys on the team."
On April 26, 2014, nine-year-old Kaiden Schroeder's involvement with senior defensive end Ryan Mueller and the K-State football team became public and reached the hearts of both K-State and football fans nation-wide. During the annual Purple vs. White Spring Game, K-State head coach Bill Snyder called Kaiden from the sidelines and sent him on to the field. Once lined up, quarterback Jake Waters passed the ball off to Kaiden who then rushed it into the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown. The stadium erupted with cheers and the team - led by Mueller - hoisted Kaiden in the air in celebration.
"He's touched so many lives on this football team. The only way I can describe it is that he's one of God's angels; there's no way around it," said offensive lineman B.J. Finney after the Spring Game. "That kid, you can look at him and see he knows things, but there's still that kid to him, that innocence. The change that has happened with guys he's affected and changed their lives, he's touched me, and I never thought something would move me as much as he did. That kid's a huge blessing and I was so happy to do that for him."
The video of Kaiden rushing in the touchdown made its way to SportsCenter, numerous local news stations and was a hit on YouTube. After the game, Jenny said Kaiden would refresh his internet browser numerous times just to see the YouTube views go up on his video.
"For a while he was checking it every day," Jenny laughed. "It was really cool. It was on all the news stations right then, so we DVR'd our local news and also recorded it on ESPN and the bigger stations."
The plan for Kaiden to get on the field during the Purple and White Spring Game was conducted entirely by Mueller.
The week before the game, Mueller stepped into Snyder's office to ask his coach if he'd be willing to go along with the plan. Not only did Snyder say, 'yes,' to getting Kaiden on the field, but he also made him a part of the team. At the game, Kaiden had a locker with his name on it next to Mueller's locker and had the opportunity to spend pregame and postgame with the team.
"Kaiden loved being on SportsCenter," said Mueller. "He loves watching YouTube and seeing how many views he gets. All I can do is try and create that opportunity for him to see himself on SportsCenter or YouTube or whatever. If I can do that, great, but if not, he's still as happy as can be just getting the opportunity to be around the guys on the team."
While off the field, Mueller's been working to making a difference through his friendship with Kaiden, on the field, the former walk-on from Leawood, Kansas, has been working hard to make a difference for his team.
Along with being selected as the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and earning second team All-America honors for his stellar play in 2013, Mueller also was chosen to the All-Big 12 First Team and twice named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. In the process, he tied the K-State record with 11.5 sacks and had 18 tackles for loss while also landing his own spot on the SportsCenter Top 10 for his sack, strip and fumble recovery of Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty.
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 and was selected to the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Bednarik Award and the Lott IMPACT Trophy and to the Rotary Lombardi Award.
As both a person and a player, Mueller has grown a lot during his K-State career, and perhaps none recognize this change better than his family.
"It truly makes me feel like that life has gone full circle for Ryan," said Ryan's mom, Valerie Mueller. "I told him, 'I don't care what awards you win, but changing someone's life and making an impact, that's the best award and reward there is.' This is reason for being here: to make other people's live better.
"I see flashes of maturity in him in terms of acknowledgement of what this little boy is going through, but then I also see Ryan turn into a 9-year-old little boy very quickly as well; they're both definitely kids at heart. Ryan just truly enjoys being with Kaiden and keeping up with him. I've been proud of his maturity."
Personal maturity is a quality Bill Snyder works hard to instill in each and every player that comes into his program.
Under Snyder's instruction, the football team spends time visiting local nursing homes throughout the year, and the players are urged to get involved in their own ways throughout the community. Snyder is committed to bettering his team as young men as well as players, and the Wildcats have bought into that mentality.
"First and foremost, it's a result of young people in our program who really reach out to others," said Snyder after the spring game when asked about Kaiden's touchdown. "There is so much community service that goes unnoticed with the young people in our program. I admire them so much. I appreciate them. They volunteer to go do things and they do amazing with it. It's good for them and they love doing it. You love seeing things like that, you certainly do."
With a head coach who teaches his team the right values, it's not hard for the Wildcats to give back or want to get involved. The team, though busy with football, has the opportunity to get out there and give back, and Mueller has taken that opportunity and run with it.
"Ryan's really taken Kaiden under his wing and has been there for him," Associate Head Coach Sean Snyder said. "It's really neat, in all honesty, to watch a player who is so passionate about what he's doing. It's neat because my dad (Bill Snyder) really reaches out to these players to be involved in the community, to be involved in people's lives and care for the right reasons. This, with Ryan, is for the right reason."
The right reason - Mueller became friends with Kaiden for all the right reasons, and now, the two share a bond that will last a lifetime.
As he looks back to his quick trip to visit Kaiden in Philadelphia this summer, though he only had one day, it was a day well spent for the duo.
"I got him out of the hospital for a little bit," said Mueller. "We ran up the Rocky steps and went and tried a Geno's Philly Cheesesteak. He beat me in the NCAA video games, too. It was fun, it got his mind off of things for a little bit to have that entertainment."
Sure, Mueller didn't win at NCAA Football on the X-Box, but he said he's practicing and, sooner or later, the two will meet up again for a rematch.
"He's back home in McPherson, Kansas, 100 percent and feeling great," said Mueller.
His smile grew wider. He loves talking about his friend.
"He's going back to Philly in September for a back poke to make sure everything is running smoothly, obviously with cancer it takes a while to be 100 percent, but he'll definitely pull through," said Mueller. "If it's anybody, it's Kaiden that will make it happen."
Kaiden, whose hospital room when he was younger was decked out in K-State purple, has been a passionate Wildcat fan for a long time. He was a fan before he met Mueller in January of 2013, yet now, the words "K-State Football" mean a little more to him.
"We're so grateful," said Jenny. "It's lifted Kaiden's spirits more than anything, and that helps more than medicine sometimes."
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On Aug. 30, Kaiden was honored during K-State's 55-16 win over Stephen F. Austin as the K-State Fan of the Game.
Though Kaiden is still in remission, he will be taking another visit to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia later this month. To read more about Kaiden and his family's journey, you can visit his CaringBridge.org journal by clicking here.