Gavin Mueller, after two years away from football, now has 11 offers and poised for big year at St. Francis

The 6-foot-6 junior tight end adds new dimension to Spartans’ offense replacing its star QB

St. Francis tight end Gavin Mueller during a 7-on-7 tournament at Naperville North on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

Gavin Mueller has not played a down of high school football and yet the St. Francis junior already holds 11 scholarship offers from colleges including Florida and Wisconsin.

Tight ends his size don’t grow on trees.

St. Francis coach Bob McMillen is thrilled to have the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Mueller back on the football field. McMillen first talked to Mueller about coming to St. Francis when the curly-haired kid was an eighth grader at St. Isadore in Bloomingdale.

Mueller came out for football for a week as a freshman, but then opted to play basketball. Mueller started for two years for the basketball team and was a shot put and discus sectional champion in track and field.

But Mueller got the itch for football after two years away.

“He fell in love with the weight room, got bigger, stronger and faster, we started talking and he said, ‘Hey, coach, I’m thinking I might try to play football again,’ ” McMillen said. “He was having a good basketball career but things weren’t going from a recruiting standpoint the way he wanted and he started working out with us. Coaches saw his size, saw his frame and said this kid has an opportunity to be good.”

Mueller is an intriguing addition for a St. Francis team coming off back-to-back state semifinal appearances. The Spartans must replace quarterback Alessio Milivojevic, who threw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, and linebacker Dom Beres. who had 177 tackles.

McMillen believes St. Francis is set up for a solid two-year run with a strong junior class led by Mueller and quarterback Brady Palmer.

Mueller was considering a return to football for awhile. Palmer, a good friend from their St. Isadore days, would talk to him about returning at the lunch table.

Mueller made the decision to come back official in April and it didn’t take long for colleges to start showing interest.

“When I got my first scholarship, I was running a route on air. I walked back to the huddle and the coach is like, ‘We’d like to offer you a scholarship’ and I was like, ‘I haven’t even run a route against someone,’ ” Mueller said. “Coach Bob was telling me it would happen eventually but even he didn’t expect this.”

A flood of offers followed – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois from the Big Ten, as well as Cincinnati and multiple Mid-American schools. Florida and Texas A&M are his latest offers.

“Now you’ve got SEC schools coming around,” McMillen said. “He’s going to have opportunities. Now he just has to go shine on Friday nights.”

St. Francis tight end Gavin Mueller during a 7-on-7 tournament at Naperville North on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

McMillen has come across similar scenarios of a player returning to football after a few years away, but usually it’s younger kids. He said Mueller is very raw right now, but he likes everything he’s shown in practice.

“You don’t find a kid that often with that size and that strength and how he runs, his stature and how he goes about himself,” McMillen said. “There are a couple things he needs to polish up on with separations and being able to go attack the football. But he’s doing a nice job so far.”

Mueller said he’s probably put on 55 to 60 pounds since he last played football. The return to football is an adjustment, but Mueller does not sound overly concerned.

“The physicality was something I was not used to for a while, but athleticism-wise and strength-wise, I’m up to par from other sports,” Mueller said. “Just getting back to hitting. It’s second nature.”

St. Francis quarterback Brady Palmer throws the ball during a 7-on-7 tournament at Naperville North on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

Building a connection with his quarterback didn’t take long.

Mueller and Palmer both went to St. Isadore and have been in English class together since the eighth grade. Mueller said he dragged Palmer onto the basketball court and he’s more than happy to return the favor to reconnect on the football field.

“Brady is probably the smartest player I’ve played with, super high IQ and he’s got that dog mentality, ready to work all the time,” Mueller said. “Lastly, he’s just a great leader. Super athletic. And the ball he throws is great.”

Palmer, Milivojevic’s understudy last year, is pleased to be adding a new dimension at tight end in his good buddy Mueller.

“He brings everything we need,” Palmer said. “We got an extra blocker now and he opens up our whole offense. We had tight ends that could play last year but not the same receiving threat that can run. Now we’ve got 6-foot-6, we got the height, you just put the ball up when you need to. If something breaks down, we have that weapon.”