K-State begins bowl prep

By ARNE GREEN

Special to The Hays Daily News

MANHATTAN -- Ryan Mueller has been there and so has Jonathan Truman.

Former walk-ons and then backups before moving into Kansas State's starting lineup this season, they know just how beneficial the next month can be for teammates eager to follow in their footsteps.

"Any time you have an opportunity to play Division I football and any time your coach asks you to do anything, that's an opportunity for a young guy trying to earn a spot in this program and earn a scholarship," Mueller, a junior defensive end from Leawood, said of the Wildcats' upcoming bowl preparation. "Whether that's a bye week during the season or offseason workouts or if we have optional workouts and there's a guy up here working out, those are all great opportunities and the bowl prep is no different.

"It's an opportunity for those guys to step up, come in and get a workout in and take reps and raise their game by trying to be that guy."

The Wildcats have gone through somewhat of a dead week since concluding their regular season last Saturday with a 31-10 victory over Kansas and improving their record to 7-5 overall, 5-4 in the Big 12. They will practice again for the first time today and Saturday before learning their bowl fate - most likely the Holiday Bowl in San Diego against a Pac-12 opponent - on Sunday.

Truman, a 5-foot-11, 219-pound junior from Kechi and Wichita's Kapaun-Mt. Carmel High School, played primarily on special teams his first two seasons before claiming a starting linebacker spot this year. He worked his way up the depth chart in part by making the most of extended pre-bowl practice opportunities.

"This time is important for the up-and-coming guys, for sure," said Truman, who ranks second on the team in tackles with 85. "Throughout the whole season a lot of them are on the scout team, running other people's defense or other teams' offenses, so this is a team kind of like during fall camp or during spring ball that those guys will be running our plays - our offense and our defense.

"So it's good for our coaches to see what they can do and it's a great opportunity for them to show."

K-State coach Bill Snyder said the additional practice time leading up to the bowls - the Holiday takes place Dec. 30 - does allow coaches to give more attention to less experienced players, but said even their scout team work is carefully scrutinized during the regular season.

"We are diligent about the assessment and evaluation of all players, every single day," he said. "We'll practice on Friday and Saturday this week and there will be time set aside in which we will practice with all underclassmen while the seniors are doing conditioning-type things.

"So there will be some time that we will totally focus attention on all the returning players. But it's a combination of both."

Mueller, who played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and was a part of the defensive end rotation in a reserve role last year, said bowl preparation time helped improve his stock. This season his 11.5 sacks tied Nyle Wiren (1996) and Ian Campbell (2006) for the school single-season record with one game still to play.

"I would take anything that I was given," said Mueller, who two years ago was strictly a pass-rushing specialist, often lining up as a 227-pound defensive tackle. "If the coaches wanted me to play nose guard in practice, I'll do it as best as I can.

"I'll probably get knocked in the teeth a couple of times, but I'll do it. I'll be the tacking dummy for a year, whatever it takes, and that's how guys get their opportunities and it's up to them if they want to take advantage of it."