Gilman's Alex Mueller remembers everything happened in a blur.
One day the 6-foot-6, 260-pound offensive tackle from Ellicott City was almost certain he was headed to Northwestern next fall.
Then came the unexpected call that changed his life. He remembers it was a Tuesday (Jan. 17), and Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz was on the other end of the line asking him to come to Notre Dame. Holtz told him he didn't even have to make a visit. His scholarship was guaranteed.
What does a 17-year-old say to the coach of the most famous football program in America? Mueller said he wanted to make a campus visit first. He visited the weekend of Jan. 21, saw the Golden Dome and then signed with the Fighting Irish Feb. 1.
"Every little kid's dream growing up is to play at Notre Dame," Mueller said. "It was sort of a big surprise. I had sent my tapes not knowing what to expect."
Notre Dame never sent a scout to watch Mueller play, and Mueller never attended any summer football camps where he might be scouted. The Irish coaching staff simply liked what it saw on the tapes.
A year ago Mueller was a long shot to land at a school like Notre Dame. Hard work in the weight room transformed him from a 208-pound junior to a 260-pound senior. He also grew an inch to 6-6.
"The big growth spurt helped him a lot because he wasn't getting too much attention from big colleges his junior year," Gilman coach Sherm Bristow said. "I'm surprised at the speed this occurred. Notre Dame didn't get into the process until late."
Behind tackles Mueller and his 6-foot-1, 280-pound weight-lifting buddy David Payne, Gilman set numerous school offensive records during a 6-2 season in which the Greyhounds shared the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championship with Mount St. Joe. Running back R.C. Kauffman rushed for 1,000 yards and quarterback Lorne Smith passed for 1,000 yards.
"Alex has good feet. He moves well in a small space," Bristow said. "Colleges liked that about him. And he's tough and aggressive with good upper-body strength.
"He's the classic late bloomer who is still filling out. Notre Dame sees him as 290 easy. And he's a tall, big-framed kid so he'll be a good-looking 290 -- not heavyset."
For someone who didn't play football until his sophomore year at Gilman, Mueller came a long way quickly.
Everything he knows about football he learned at Gilman -- much of it from line coach Biff Poggi, a Gilman alumnus who played at Duke and Pitt.
Swimming and baseball were Mueller's two main sports while he grew up in Ellicott City and attended Resurrection School through fifth grade.
"I swam for the Retrievers Swim Club from grades four to six, but I got sick and tired of swimming because it was boring," he said.
He transferred to Gilman for sixth grade, and as a high school sophomore he played defensive tackle for the junior varsity football team. He switched to offense his junior year.
"I like offense better because you know where the play is going and what the count will be and you get to hit first," Mueller said.
Last season he made first team on The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro squad. He also won first-team All-State honors from The Associated Press.
Football isn't Mueller's only sport. He plays center for the school's ice hockey team. And he's also played lacrosse.
He is the first Gilman player to sign with Notre Dame during Bristow's 14 seasons as coach. But he's not the first to be recruited. Bristow said Jamal Cox (who graduates from Georgia Tech this year) and Leon Newsome (who graduated from Princeton in 1987) had Notre Dame's interest.
Mueller credits the summer weight-lifting program at Gilman.
"I lifted two hours a day four days a week and spent one day on agility exercises," he said.
Gilman's weight room is a typical high school weight room adorned with slogans such as: "Pay the price."
Mueller is one of those lucky ones for whom paying the price paid off.