MANHATTAN — It should not have come as a surprise Saturday during Kansas State’s Spring Football Game that No. 44 was the standout of the day.
That’s the number worn by Kansas State’s defensive star Ryan Mueller.
But on this day, there were two No. 44s on the field. The other was worn by young Kaiden Schroeder of McPherson.
McPherson residents are probably familiar with Kaiden’s story by now. He has been battling leukemia since 2009, spending countless days and weeks in the hospital under going treatments, all the time trying to do all the things a normal kid does when healthy.
During his struggles, he was befriended by Mueller, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder and the Wildcat team. He was on the sidelines for the Spring Game, cheering his favorite team on.
Late in the third quarter, Snyder told Kaiden to go in the game. He was given the football and took off for a 30-yard touchdown run, as the Wildcats ran a convoy to usher him into the end zone. Once he reached the end zone, the Wildcat players put Kaiden on their shoulders and carried him around to celebrate, as those in attendance — including many Kansas State fans from McPherson — went wild.
"This was the greatest day ever. I will never forget this day," Kaiden told midkansasonline.com.
His father, Chris, said the family has been overwhelmed by the kindness shown by Mueller, Snyder and the Wildcats.
"It was so much fun." Chris said. "He had his own locker with his gear in it. Ryan and the rest of the Wildcats have brought Kaiden in as one of their own family members. Bill Snyder, Ryan Mueller and the whole K-State family have been a blessing. They have done so much to lift Kaiden's and our whole family's spirits."
"He has overcome battles," Mueller told The Kansas City Star. "Who wants to spend their childhood doing that? I didn't spend my eighth birthday in a hospital. I can't imagine going through that. We are all so glad we can help him out."
Kaiden first became acquainted with Mueller after the 2013 Fiesta Bowl and the connection has continued, probably forever. And it's not just Mueller, but the entire team.
"That kid has touched so many lives on this football team," center B.J. Finney said to The Star. "The only way I can describe it is he is one of God's angels. There is no way around it. You look at him and you see he knows certain things, but there is a side of kid in him. He has that innocence. He has changed some of our lives. I never thought something would move me as much as he did. That kid is such a blessing and I am glad we could do that for him."
ESPN picked up on Kaiden's run and it is now an Internet sensation.