After a breakout junior year that garnered him second team All-America and first team All-Big 12 honors, the senior captain wants to make 2014 the best year in a string of successful campaigns during his tenure at Kansas State.
‘Winning’s the best,’ Mueller said at Big 12 media days last week. ‘That’s what you do it for, the pride of winning. At the end of the day when you beat your opponent and go to bed that night, you can close your eyes knowing you won, you were better that day.’
In a year that saw K-State replace nearly its entire defense, Mueller broke out in a big way, leading the team in tackles for loss (18), sacks (11) and forced fumbles (4), despite getting extra attention from the opposing teams’ blocking schemes.
Mueller said if teams divert too many blockers in his direction, his teammates will take care of the rest.
‘We’ve got a lot of talented guys on our team,’ Mueller said. ‘If teams are putting two or three guys on me at a time, that just going to create an opportunity for one of my teammates to excel, and that’s all I can ask for.’
As the former walk-on enters his final year at K-State, he stays motivated knowing complacency is the quickest way to ruin his last season as a
‘A quote that rings home with me is ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work,’’ he said. ‘I take that quote, look at it every morning, and just know that I’ve got to make the sacrifice to outwork not only my teammates to put me in a leadership platform for them, but I’ve also got to outwork any guy in the Big 12 Conference.
‘Because everybody’s doing the same thing I’m doing. Everybody’s working out, everybody’s training for the season. But what guy is going to make the sacrifice to do it a little bit better?’
Mueller said despite the grueling, nearly year-round training that comes with Division-I football, he sees it as a joy.
‘I don’t look at football as work or a job, I love this,’ he said. ‘I love playing football, I love how it’s put me on a platform to put smiles on people’s faces. It’s an easy thing to do when you love it.’
The senior said he expects the defense to be improved right out of the gate this year, with many of last year’s newcomers growing more comfortable in their roles as the 2013 season went on. Throw in this year’s batch of newcomers, including several junior-college players who missed spring practices such as defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, linebackers D’Vonta Derricott and Isaiah Riddle and cornerback Jesse Mack, and the group projects to be formidable.
‘Now with the group of guys that are returning, there’s no excuses,’ he said. ‘All of these guys have Saturday afternoon, game experience. That’s the biggest thing in college football, having guys that are experienced with 50 or 100,000 people yelling at you.’
Despite finishing last season as the conference’s defensive lineman of the year, Mueller didn’t get the nod for preseason defensive player of the year entering his senior season, with the award instead going to TCU’s Devonte Fields.
Mueller admitted recognition is good, but winning takes priority.
‘I want to be considered the best, that’s why I’m in this game, to be the best player I can possibly be,’ he said. ‘All of those personal awards and accolades are great, don’t get me wrong, recognition is awesome. The people who have won those awards before me just to be mentioned in the same sentence or have your name on the same plaque as those guys would be awesome, a total dream come true.
‘But at the end of the day, as a person, as a man, you’re not judged by those awards. You’re judged if you’re a winner or a loser. That’s my approach. I want to celebrate victories and be considered a winner with my teammates.’