Garrett Mueller has changed his entire mindset when it comes to coaching football. He’s embraced a new-school approach that prioritizes speed and health. Along the way, Mueller has implemented some creative catch-phrases for his Tigers.
No. 1: Speed grows like a tree. Plant and water it now!
No. 2: Speed wins.
No. 3: Run fast, hit hard.
No. 4: Tired is the enemy.
No. 5: Feed our cats with sunshine and rest.
No. 6: Do no harm.
No. 7: Rather be 80 percent in shape and 100 percent healthy than 100 percent in shape and 80 percent healthy.
The phrases are cool, but results really tell the whole story. Especially when the Tigers’ coaches are faster than almost all of their players.
Stewartville assistant coach Alex Hain ran a 40-yard dash in 5.37 seconds in June of 2019. On June 23, Hain ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.77 seconds. That’d be one of the best marks on the team.
Mueller’s times aren’t half-bad either. The former Wisconsin-La Crosse wide receiver finished his 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds. And that’s with a bad knee. Mueller and Hain aren’t scared to challenge the players with their own speed numbers. They put their results in the team group chat.
“Oh, we got lots of eye rolls,” Hain said with a laugh. “They’re like, ‘I’ll run that in the fall.’ OK. All right. We’ll see.”
The players might roll their eyes at their coaches, but they can’t scoff when they see their own times start to drop and drop.
In fact, their eyes get much bigger.
'THEY'RE TIRED, COACH'
Parker Theobald could sense it. The Stewartville star lineman trotted off the field early in the second quarter of a game last season and turned to Mueller.
“They’re tired, coach,” Theobald said. “They’re done.”
It was Week 8 and Stewartville was battling Cannon Falls for the district championship. Both teams were undefeated, but Theobald and the Tigers could smell blood even though they only led 14-8.
Theobald was right. The Tigers blitzed Cannon Falls with 32 straight points and cruised to a 45-24 victory.
The change in philosophy had paid off. When other teams were starting to tire late in a game, Stewartville still had plenty left in the tank.
LESS IS MORE
Mueller grew up learning how to play football using the old-school method that centered around hard work and punishing your body.
Two-a-day practices were supposed to be brutal. You were supposed to vomit. Mueller believed he had to push himself all the way to the brink because that’s the only way he was going to improve.
Mueller transformed into a good enough wide receiver to earn a spot at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
But Mueller is changing his thought process. He's teamed up with Hain and strength and conditioning coach Eric Pohl to switch the mindset of the Tigers.
They’re all-in on speed now.
“Last year, we jumped fully into it,” Mueller said. “I think it’s helped from a standpoint of being able to put players in a position to be healthy and enjoying the game.”
It’s not been easy. Mueller has lessened the amount of time that his Tigers spend smashing each other in offseason workouts and in practice. Instead, fully-padded workouts are a rarity in the regular season.
"I came from a program that was, ‘The harder you work, the more results you’ll achieve,’” Mueller said. “That’s been the hardest thing for me to get over and come to grips with. Less is more doesn’t feel right. But we’d rather identify the 20 percent of the things we do that has the 80 percent of the results.”
They’ve spent a ton of time adapting and learning about Reflexive Performance Reset (RPR) which focuses on improving the speed and explosiveness of the athletes while lessening the chance for injury.
The results have been jaw-dropping. Stewartville was one of the fastest teams in the area last year, and their improved team speed was one of the main reasons the Tigers finished 8-1.
"Having that immediate success definitely helps you buy-in,” Hain said. “Just seeing that your hard work is paying off. Even in the third and fourth quarter, we were faster.”
The number of injuries dropped significantly. They limited the number of hits their players were sustaining in practice, so Stewartville didn’t have a player miss a game due to a concussion last year. And they had just one player miss a couple of games due to a sprained MCL. But the soft-tissue injuries were non-existent other than that one minor injury.
“Concussions are all about those little hits,” Mueller said. “It’s the series of compounding hits over time that lead up to that one final big one. You’ll see a kid that gets completely destroyed and no concussion at all. And then one that’s so unassuming and now they have a major concussion. But the force was completely different. We don’t have those compounding hits adding up in practice. The only times our guys really get hit hard is on a Friday night. Just lowers the amount of contact.”
They invested in some high-level technology that tracks the speed improvements that the Tigers have made throughout the offseason.
This summer, Stewartville has taken its speed training to a new level. Mueller, Pohl and Hain have been getting out to the Stewartville track at 7 a.m. and multiple groups –– both boys and girls –– have participated in the speed workouts using the RPR drills.
It’s not just the varsity guys either. There are some seventh-graders who are getting early speed training that will undoubtedly pay off down the road. That data they are compiling now will still be around when those seventh-graders are hitting the field as upperclassmen.
On June 26, Stewartville had its first max velocity day of the summer. Standout running back Josh Buri led the way topping out at 21.53 mph. He was joined by five other players to top 20 mph. Stewartville had 32 players top 18 mph in the 10-yard fly.
“Speed is all about strength-to-weight ratio,” Mueller said. “The speed gains will be counteracted if you’re big and bulky. We want explosiveness.”
They’re not completely disregarding the weight room. The Tigers are still able to put up big-time numbers on both the squat rack and in the bench press.
But they’re not punishing their players’ bodies anymore. They’re thinking differently.
"The players might have been a little skeptical at first," Hain said. "But then they went through it. They felt so much better after practice. They were like, 'Oh, this is way better.'"
It wasn’t that long ago that Mueller and Hain wanted to get their own personal 40-yard dash times under 5.0 seconds.
Mueller and Hain aren't just telling players what to do. They're showing the Tigers that if it can work for coaches, it can work for athletic high schoolers too. They’re blazing down the track and challenging their guys to catch up.
Not bad for two guys who have four kids combined.