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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kansas State Defensive End Ryan Mueller Walked-On, Became Best in Big 12

By Scott Bordow

AzCentral Sports

Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan is 6 feet 8 and 315 pounds. He’s a two-time All-American and is expected to be one of the top 15 picks in the upcoming NFL draft.

Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller is 6-2 and 245 pounds. He walked on to Kansas State and helped pay for his tuition with money he earned from his landscaping business.

Their respective biographies would suggest Lewan will have the upper hand in Saturday’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl game at Sun Devil Stadium. Mueller, however, doesn’t see it that way.

“I have seen him on tape and I have heard of all the awards that he has won,” Mueller said. “It is obviously going to be a tremendous challenge for me going against arguably one of the best tackles in the country, but I am confident in my ability. I am confident in what I have been taught the last four years that I can handle anything that comes my way.”

“I just try to be better than the man across from me, because I know that behind all of that stuff it does not really mean anything. It’s what inside that makes a player good.”

Mueller’s journey from walk-on to a junior season in which he had a team-high 11 1/2 sacks and was named Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year stretches credulity. He didn’t come out of nowhere; he was somewhere beyond nowhere.

Mueller was the Eastern Kansas League Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Overland Park, Kan., but all that got him was a bunch of rejection letters from colleges, including his beloved Kansas, where his father Steve went to school and where he attended games as a child.

“They obviously thought I was talented but not as talented as other guys they offered scholarships,” Mueller said. “I took it as a chip on my shoulder. I decided to take my college career to the highest level possible, and Kansas State recruited me as a walk-on. It was a level playing field for everybody to be a starter in this program, and I decided to take it and run with it as far as I could.”

Mueller was not an overnight success. He had total of 17 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks his first two seasons. But the lack of playing time and results wasn’t going to deter a young man who started his own landscape business when he was 12 years old and ran it through high school.

“I usually did all the work by myself,” Mueller said. “I’d go to school, go to practice and mow as many lawns as I could before dark.”

That same work ethic and determination drove his success this season; Mueller finished tied for seventh in the country in sacks, but his coach and teammates were more impressed by the way he carried himself every day in practice.

“Nobody practices harder than Ryan Mueller,” coach Bill Snyder told reporters. “Nobody.”

Added center B.J. Finney: “What you’re seeing is the direct result of how hard Mueller works. Mueller is a very hard worker, he’s a great guy, and he doesn’t take any day for granted. He doesn’t take a day off. His motor is always running, and he’s always screaming ... and hollering.”

Mueller needs one more sack to break the single-season school record he shares with Nyle Wiren and Ian Campbell. Think Kansas regrets not offering him a scholarship?

“There’s a lot more disappointing things that can happen in life,” Mueller said. “My dad told me, ‘Go where you’re wanted. Don’t go to a place where you’re not wanted.’ If you cut me open now, I totally bleed purple.”

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