Mueller a worker for Wildcats
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The HDN
MANHATTAN -- It looked like a once-in-a-lifetime play, a highlight-reel moment that neither Ryan Mueller nor Kansas State fans will likely forget any time soon.
Mueller, the Wildcats' junior defensive end, was chasing Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty toward the left sideline and when Petty attempted to throw on the run, he launched himself toward the ball, knocked it loose, made the tackle and recovered the fumble, all in a split second.
In many ways, it was the quintessential Mueller play, made at full speed with no regard for his body. But what impressed K-State coach Bill Snyder most about Mueller's performance last week in that 35-25 loss to the No. 15-ranked Bears was the way he harnessed his intensity.
"The one thing that was probably a little different was that he did play with that greater discipline," Snyder said. "Nobody plays harder than Ryan Mueller -- nobody -- and nobody practices harder than Ryan Mueller.
"You can play hard, but you've got to be able to have the discipline to make the right decision, do the right thing. I think he did that (against Baylor)."
Mueller, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound defensive end from Leawood and St. Thomas Aquinas High School, started the season as the most experienced lineman on a K-State defense that lost its entire starting front four from a year ago. He was initially used as a pass rush specialist but eventually worked his way into a regular rotation with Meshak Williams and Adam Davis.
Mueller also sometimes let his enthusiasm get the better of him.
"I think last year I led the team in personal fouls," he said with a smile. "Sometimes that's going to happen.
"If you're going full speed 100 percent of the time, sometimes that can lead into mistakes or troubles or penalties. You have to take what you can get from it."
Controlling the mayhem is an ongoing battle.
"If you want to be a good player you've got to learn how to go 110 percent without thinking -- a little thinking to it, but you can't second-guess any opportunities to make plays," Mueller added. "If you can play in a controlled, disciplined manner that coach Snyder preaches constantly, you can be an effective player at any level and anywhere on this defense."
But even so, Mueller admitted to a momentary misstep on the third-quarter play against Petty that set up a go-ahead touchdown for the Wildcats.
"He rolled out my way (and) at first I kind of lost contain on it and was just trying to make it back to my spot," Mueller said. "I felt that if I were to try to jump and tackle him I would have been out of position and probably would have just tripped up his feet.
"I saw him continuing to look down field for somebody open so I assumed he was definitely going to try to throw it, and so I was just waiting for him to pull back his arm and throw it. I saw him pump up the ball a little bit and I just decided to make a claw for it, I guess."
His teammates have come to expect nothing less from Mueller, who also is emerging as a vocal leader on the Wildcat defense.
"I couldn't have more respect for him, the way he goes about his business," senior safety Ty Zimmerman said of Mueller, who had seven tackles, two sacks and broke up a pass as the Wildcats held Baylor 35 points and 320 yards below its season average. "If people see him in practice they wouldn't be surprised either, because he goes hard every single play and makes those plays like he did today."
What Snyder saw was Mueller at his best.
"I thought it was a great play and I don't think I've ever said that before," Snyder said. "Just because of the effort it took for him to get from where he was to where he made the play, and he did it in such a way that a lot of players might not do that.
"If you know Ryan, he's not the fastest guy in the world, and to run a running back down is not the easiest thing in the world for anybody to do, let alone somebody that doesn't have great foot speed. But to get there and have the presence of mind to put his hand where he put his hand and still make the tackle and strip the ball I thought was a very, very fine play."
When told what Snyder said, Mueller smiled.
"It's obviously a tremendous compliment from a legendary coach," he said. "It just means no more plays off for me from here on out."