Mueller is a Wildcat walk-on

By JOCELYN SHEETS
Register Sports Editor

Register/Jocelyn Sheets
Drew Mueller (30) said he and Ian Peters (35) became very good friends as walk-on freshmen for the Kansas State University football team this fall. Mueller, Iola, and Peters, Pike Valley High School in Scandia, were defensive backs for the Wildcats.
Register/Jocelyn Sheets
Going through defensive back warm-up drills before a home game at Kansas State is former Iola High standout Drew Mueller (30). Mueller was a walk-on for the Wildcats in 2009 as K-State began rebuilding under Bill Snyder, who came out of retirement to coach the Wildcats again.

Iola High standout Drew Mueller made up his mind his senior year that he would try to “walk on” at Kansas State University. Mueller knew he wanted to play football at a major university or at least try at that level.
Bill Snyder was back as the Wildcats’ head football coach. In Snyder’s first run as head coach for K-State, the walk-on program was a success for the Wildcats.
“I was waiting for scholarship money but no major colleges offered me football scholarships. I had offers from several Kansas junior colleges,” Mueller said after completing his first season with the K-State football team.
“When I decided on my major, I was going to K-State and that’s when I asked Coach (Rick) Horton to contact K-State about walking on the team.”
A walk-on player is one with no scholarship. And usually a high school player with that “I can play at NCAA Division I level” mentally and wins a spot on the team to be on the “scout teams” or practice squads.
Since Snyder came to Kansas State in 1989, walk-on players have thrived for the Wildcats. The most recent were Jordy Nelson, who came from Riley County High School just north of Manhattan, and Ian Campbell of Cimarron High School. Neither had scholarship offers from Division I schools and set their sights on earning a scholarship through the Kansas State walk-on program.
Both stayed with the Wildcats through five years and earned scholarships.
Both starred for the Wildcats — Nelson as a receiver who was drafted and is now playing for the Green Bay Packers and Campbell as one of the Cats’ top defensive ends.
Mueller doesn’t know if he will be that successful but he’s out to try to make it on the field for the Wildcats.
“About halfway through my senior year, I made the decision,” Mueller said. Mueller was named first-team All-Southeast Kansas League after the 2008 Mustang football team had one of the top seasons in school history — 7-3 and a playoff berth.
Mueller played fullback on offense and linebacker on defense for Iola High. The 5-11, 175-pounder had 27 solo tackles and 13 assisted tackles, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and three quarterback sacks on defense. Iola High head coach Rick Horton contacted the Kansas State football offices and set Mueller’s path to Manhattan.
“Coach Vic Koenning contacted me and told me to be in the best shape I could be in when I came to school in the fall. I worked out with my friends and the Iola High School kids throughout the summer just preparing myself,” Mueller said.
Koenning was Kansas State’s assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and defensive back coach on Snyder’s staff. Snyder returned to K-State after a three-year retirement and the walk-on program was back in force.
Mueller said K-State’s coaches saw him on film and liked what they saw. But Mueller was switched from linebacker, a position he had played most of his career, to a defensive back.
He said he didn’t know if he had made the walk-on program until two weeks before the season began this fall. He then was on the K-State team, learning to play safety and everybody knew he was on the team.
“I felt a lot of pressure because people knew I had made the team. I wanted to come through not just for myself but everyone back here in Iola. It was tough. I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep because of the schedule — lift weights early in the morning, go to classes, sleep about an hour, then having (football) meetings and practices. All freshmen are required to be in a study hall in the evenings. It was hectic but I loved it.”
Mueller and the other walk-ons did not suit out for the Wildcat home opener against Massachusetts. But Sept. 26, 2009 is a day Mueller will remember forever.
“Putting on that uniform for the first time and hearing our crowd even in the locker room was awesome. It was Fort Riley Day when we played Tennessee Tech so they were shooting off the cannons when we came out. Running out on to the field that first game — well, every time this season — in front of the crowd was awesome. ,” Mueller said.
Mueller suited out and warmed up with the Wildcats in five of the six home games in 2009. No, he didn’t play but never felt like he wasn’t part of the team.
“I thought as a walk-on and coming from a small school, the starters wouldn’t have anything to do with us. But that’s not the case. Joshua Moore (starting cornerback) came over and introduced himself to my family.”
Making the adjustments to being a college student and as an athlete were tough, Mueller said. Mueller is majoring in athletic training.
On the field, it was about learning a new position.
“I only know four defensive plays because I was on the scout team, meaning we were running the opposing defense against our No. 1 offense during practices,” Mueller said.
“I was a safety but one practice I had to be cornerback and cover Brandon Banks (K-State’s top receiver). I was staying with him and knew the route he was running. I really thought I had a chance to intercept the pass. I looked at the quarterback but he changed his throwing motion. I turned back to see where Brandon was and he was in the corner of the end zone ready to make the catch.”
Mueller said he plans to stick with it. He is going through off-season training and will participate in spring football at K-State. He said he had to gain weight and improve on his skills.
“Coach Snyder doesn’t know who the walk-ons are and most of my contact was with the position coaches. We go by depth charts. Some of my best friends at college are on the football team,” Mueller said.
“It’s all worth it. During the season there were a couple times I got down be-cause there’s so much to think about at this level. In high school, I played straight forward and went after the ball. I don’t want to leave any what-ifs out there.
“For anyone else out there wanting to play at this level and walk on, coaches look for a good work ethic. Not just on the field but in classes too. You have to have good grades.”
A couple of years ago former Uniontown High’s Cory Warren was a walk-on at K-State. Mueller said Warren was a graduate assistant for the Wildcats this past season.
“It’s all worth it,” Mueller said again. “It is a great experience.”
Mueller is the son of Tom and Carla Mueller of Iola.