Perhaps the only thing more difficult than collecting a school-record 11.5 sacks and earning All-America status in a season, is doing it twice.
Yet former walk-on and reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Ryan Mueller says despite the record-setting season he had a year ago, he feels no pressure to duplicate it next season.
“No pressure at all,” the Kansas State senior said this week. “I’m confident, but that starts with the coaching staff getting me mentally and physically prepared for the season and the grind that goes on. Every summer I just try to get bigger, faster and stronger, and so far, I’ve done that. I’m looking forward to the season.”
The defensive end had 62 tackles last year and finished second in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss — earning multiple All-America honors and first-team All-Big 12 — while helping the Wildcats win six of their last seven games to end the season.
It was a season Mueller said he would never forget. But it’s time to move on to next season. That starts Saturday when the Wildcats’ spring workouts culminate with the annual scrimmage at Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 1:10 p.m.
“I do need to turn the page and realize that last season was last season,” the Leawood native said. “Nobody cares what you did last season — it’s all about now and playing the best you possibly can now and now proving that you can do it again.”
Part of turning the page for the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Mueller has been his growth as a leader. A year ago he did it on the field. But as he’s turned into the face of the defense, Mueller has also turned into a voice everyone listens to, unafraid to call out teammates for not doing things the right way, sometimes saying the difficult things that need to be said and always ready to provide the motivational speech when his team needs it the most.
“He’s a player’s coach out there,” linebacker Charmeachealle Moore said. “He’s a great leader and makes everyone around him better. He holds everyone accountable and pushes everyone to do things the right way, all the time. He’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind.”
Senior Laton Dowling said Mueller is a role model in everything he does, on and off the field.
“We’re all tired out there during camp and you have guys like Ryan out there running in the 110-degree heat, so you know you better be out there running too,” said Dowling, who rooms with Mueller on road trips. “If he’s doing it, you have to be doing it too. He sets the right example and is a great guy to base your effort off of, the stuff he does and the moves he makes.”
There was perhaps no bigger move Mueller made last season than when he chased down Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty for a sack near the sideline, stripped the ball and recovered the fumble.
“His relentless effort is something you can’t teach,” Dowling said. “You can’t coach someone to run after the ball and strip it on the sideline like that. You can’t coach that. That’s just great effort and pushes all of us to be better.”
Mueller credits former K-State defensive ends Jordan Voelker, Meshak Williams and Adam Davis for pushing him in the same way to get better.
“Jordan Voelker would stay after practice with me,” he said. “I remember one specific time that he stayed after practice with me for probably about two hours up in our film room, just drawing up plays for me. Meshak Williams and Adam Davis both helped me a lot during practice, like things to do with my hands and footwork, but a lot of credit goes to Jordan Voelker and (coaches) Joe Bob Clements and now Blake Seiler.
“There have just been so many people who have had a helping hand in my success here. The list is really endless. I am just kind of trying to be another piece to someone else’s success in this program.”