In-state Mueller plays big role for K-State football
By ARNE GREEN
By ARNE GREEN
MANHATTAN — It didn't take Ryan Mueller long to make an impression on his Kansas State teammates.
Even as a freshman walk-on from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, his exuberance stood out.
"Since he's been here, I remember the first summer workout when we got here he was out there yelling and cheering everybody on," said junior receiver Curry Sexton said of Mueller, the Wildcats' all-Big 12 defensive end. "You were like, 'Who's that redhead in the corner yelling at everyone,' because at that point nobody knew everybody.
"But you get to know Ryan and you love his personality, love his enthusiasm and his energy. Every locker room needs a guy like him, a guy that's going to push it to the limit every single day and give everything he has. That's huge for a team and people follow that."
That is exactly why, in a breakout junior year that saw him tie the school single-season sack record, Mueller also has emerged as a vocal leader on the team. He has been credited with more than one impassioned speech to the team as the Wildcats bounced back from a 2-4 start to win five of their last six games.
"I admit to being a leader of this team," said Mueller, who will help lead the Wildcats against Michigan in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. "The hardest part about being a vocal leader is knowing what to say, and being loud and assertive (is the easiest), because that's who I am.
"I like to talk. I feel like I can't get through to people if I'm not communicating with them. I can't just lead by example."
Perhaps not, but Mueller's personality is no different on the field than off.
"It's just that relentless attitude he has," said junior linebacker Jonathan Truman.
K-State coach Bill Snyder speaks often of developing leaders in his program, and the first step is building credibility.
"You have a lot of young people that have some leadership capabilities," Snyder said. "They have the ability to communicate with other players, they do the right things, etc.
"But it's the same old thing that they're 18 years old and everybody's not like this, but if you're going to follow someone, you're going to follow someone that does it, other than just talk about it. Actions speak louder than words, isn't that what they say?"
Mueller, whose 11.5 sacks rank second in the Big 12 and tie him with Nyle Wiren (1996) and Ian Campbell (2006) for K-State's single season mark, agreed that he's more comfortable speaking out now that he has established a resume.
"It definitely helps to prove yourself on the field and then expect the same from your teammates because if they're the ones looking up to you and they see you out there making plays on Saturdays, they want to be that same person, be that guy," he said. "It's one thing to talk about it and it's another thing to talk about it and be about it."
Sexton saw Mueller's leadership abilities emerge during the past offseason with the departure of starting defensive ends.
"He kind of took it upon his shoulders to take over that defensive line and he knew he had to step up," Sexton said of Mueller, who ranks fifth on the team with 61 tackles and leads the league with 18.5 tackles for loss. "And once he started making plays, you started to see that leader in him come out and he started saying stuff after games and saying stuff before practice and during practice."
Snyder pointed to such Wildcat standouts as former quarterback Collin Klein and senior safety Ty Zimmerman as players who were mild-mannered by nature but had to learn how to speak up. That was never an issue for Mueller.
"I think with Ryan, what comes natural to him is he's a very vocal guy," Snyder said. "I'm not sure in all of his tenure that all the things that he's been able to vocalize were always the things I wanted to hear.
"But as I've said so many times, nobody works any harder and nobody goes any harder. He's working very diligently on being able to communicate with his teammates in the right way and I appreciate that a great deal."
Mueller said he is confident Snyder agrees with most of that he has to say.
"I've been here for four years and coach Snyder's obviously been here a whole lot longer than I have," Mueller said. "(But) I feel for a player to communicate with another player — I'm going through the same thing you're going through, so let's get on the same page and work through this — or if something I don't like is happening, I'll do my best to change it and be the best leader that I possibly can be."
When Mueller does speak out, it's hard to miss.
"Ryan's not shy, that's for sure," Truman said. "He'll talk to just about anybody and he's a real passionate guy.
"This team means so much to all of us and he can really show it when he talks."
That, Sexton added, is invaluable.
"People respond to people like him," Sexton said. "That's big.
"He's not in the corner anymore, but he's still a redhead."