YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

NFL Draft Turns Into a Whirlwind for Oxy Back Mueller

May 08, 1986|BOB MUIR | Times Staff Writer

Vance Mueller figured he had at least two more hours and another 100 draft picks to kill as he anxiously waited with about 10 Alpha Tau Omega fraternity buddies for his name to be called in last week's National Football League draft.

So when a friend calmly walked into the room in the fraternity house just before 2 p.m. and congratulated the Occidental College running back on being the fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Raiders, Mueller was more than a bit surprised. The draft had gone off television and the friend had overheard the Occidental coaches say that Mueller had been chosen by the Raiders.

Mueller was shocked.

It was not exactly what he had expected.

"Somebody came into the room and said, 'Congratulations, I heard you got picked in the fourth round by the Raiders.' And we all said, 'Ah, get outta here,' " said Mueller. "Nobody believed him, we thought he was kidding us. We didn't even know what was going on."

Coach Came Running

Mueller realized it was true when Occidental offensive coordinator Dave Lonsinger came running from the athletic office two blocks away after receiving the call from the Raiders, who couldn't get through on Mueller's phone.

Minutes later Mueller was on the phone with Raider officials. Seconds later, the champagne was flowing.

"I was happy. It was just like a dream come true," said Mueller, who opened workouts Wednesday at the Raiders El Segundo camp, the first of three minicamps for rookies and free agents. "It was hard to believe. You can't explain the kind of lift it gives you. I don't think anything has got me that high before."

Things like this do not happen every day at Occidental.

Mueller is only the third player drafted by the NFL in Occidental history. Jack Kemp, the former Buffalo, San Diego and Rams quarterback, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1958, and running back Gene Moore was a 1968 selection for the San Francisco 49ers.

That High!

Mueller, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Monday, expected to be drafted, but not as high as 103rd.

"I knew I'd get drafted, I just didn't know where. I thought if I got drafted at all, it would be in the lower rounds, 10 or 12 or something like that," he said.

"Neal Allen, my agent, said I'd go anywhere from the fourth to the eighth round. I didn't agree with him because I thought he might have just been saying that to keep my hopes up. But he knew what he was talking about."

The early selection also surprised Occidental Coach Dale Widolff, whose Tigers finished the season 9-2.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if Vance was selected from the sixth through the 10th round," said Widolff. "But if he was picked any higher than the fifth or not picked at all, I would have been greatly surprised."

2nd in Career Touchdowns

Mueller, 6-2 and 210 pounds, a four-year starter at running back, rushed for 752 yards and 11 touchdowns in 157 carries in 1985. His 53 career touchdowns rank second only tothe 79 of Joe Dudek of Plymouth (N. H.) State on the all-time NCAA Division III list. Dudek, surprisingly, was not picked in this year's draft.

Raiders general manager Al Davis "has an incredible eye for talent," Allen said. "I don't think anyone in the business is better at judging talent. The Raiders don't make that many drafting mistakes. Picking Vance in the fourth round shows they must have plans for him."

Raider plans will no doubt center on Mueller's speed. He consistently ran 40 yards in 4.4 or 4.3 seconds in three tryouts for the Raiders before the draft.

"He has incredible speed," said Raiders Coach Tom Flores. "We just have to put that together with his other skills and see what we have."

But some doubt Mueller's ability to play in the NFL. Although he dominated Division III, some say he has never really been tested.

Mueller disagrees.

Other Teams Interested

"It's a harder-hitting game and it's a faster pace in Division I, but I think Division III is just as competitive and games are played the same way," said Mueller, who rushed for 2,981 yards in his college career.

But the Raiders were not the only team willing to take a chance with the Oxy speedster. Mueller had tryouts with 20 NFL teams before the draft, including the Rams.

Mueller's 4.45-second 40-yard sprint in the Rams tryout was even more impressive than UCLA receiver Mike Sherrard's 4.47. Sherrard, a first-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys and the 18th player taken in the draft, was considered the fastest athlete in the draft.

Mueller was especially pleased to be chosen to play for the Raiders, which would fulfill a boyhood dream.

Mueller has been a Raider fan since his family moved to Jackson, Calif., 45 miles southeast of Sacramento, from New York when he was 13. Former receiver Fred Biletnikoff and former defensive lineman Lyle Alzado top his list of Raider idols.

Childhood Heroes

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've liked the Raiders. Then when I came down here, I had even stronger feelings for the Raiders. I've always followed them.

Los Angeles Times Articles