BENGALS: QB Tanner, WR Mitch Hit a Routine in Second Season as Teammates and Roommates in Pocatello
By Aaron VanTuyl
Sure, they’re in the corner of Idaho most people forget about. And sure, they’re not exactly picked to win the Big Sky Conference championship.
But don’t worry about the Gueller brothers. They’re doing just fine.
Tanner, a 2014 W.F. West High School graduate, is a redshirt junior entering his second season as Idaho State University’s starting quarterback. Mitch, a 2012 W.F. West graduate, is a sophomore — though he’s closing in on his 24th birthday — and one of the Bengals’ top receiving threats. After an up-and-down 2016 season, they’re in a football groove and enjoying life as teammates and, once again, roommates.
Tanner, an All-State quarterback back in his Bearcat days, was named the starter by former ISU head coach Mike Kramer last summer. The Bengals went 2-9 (1-7 in Big Sky play), and Gueller started 10 games, hitting 235 of 404 passes for 2,351 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
“I would have liked to have had a better season overall,” he said. “We had our ups and downs, for sure. I’m definitely focused on limiting turnovers this season, being more efficient in our quick passes and stuff. I think I need to be completing more passes and limiting turnovers.”
Kramer retired in late March, and Rob Phenicie moved up from offensive coordinator to head coach. Phenicie started the 2016 season as the Bengals’ wide receivers coach, but was promoted to OC in Jan. 19 when Matt Troxel took a job in Montana. Troxel, too, is now back in the fold, rejoining the team in late April as offensive coordinator.
“We’ve been close to those guys since they’ve been here,” Tanner said. “We have a really good open line of communication with those two.”
Practice started on Aug. 4, and after a lot of summer work, things are looking good for the now-veteran starter. The Bengals graduated their top running back, tight end and a starting wide receiver, but return a few backs who got carries last season and receivers Hagen Graves, speedy Mikey Dean and, of course, Mitch Gueller.
And the younger (but more experienced in the college game) Gueller, listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, has a full year under his belt.
“I’m just a lot more comfortable, and knowing what to expect,” he said. “I just kind of have the feel of what game situations are like, so I’m definitely feeling more comfortable going into my fourth year.”
Mitch, naturally, has his back.
“He’s taken a lot of strides in his reads. He’s getting fast and quick,” Mitch said of his little brother. “He’s that field general that you need out there. When stuff starts to go a little haywire, he’s the one we’re going to look to. He’s getting comfortable in that role, and he’s doing a great job of it.”
And about the preseason coaches poll, in which the Bengals were picked to finish last in the Big Sky Conference?
“We’re not too worried about that, but that’s not our expectation, especially with the new coaches and stuff,” Tanner said. “We’ve got high standards, so we’re trying to put our best foot forward and ignore all that stuff. We believe in ourselves, for sure.”
The Guellers knew being back under the same roof and on the same field would be a lot of fun, but there was one lingering question heading into camp last summer — namely, could Mitch still play football?
The older Gueller last played receiver in 2009, his sophomore (and first varsity) season at W.F. West. He moved under center as a junior, so the sample size was a bit limited.
Drafted in 2012 as a pitcher by the Philadelphia Phillies, Mitch spent most of five seasons playing minor league baseball, starting in the New York-Penn League All-Star game in 2015 and reaching Single-A ball before being released in the spring of 2016 and, shortly thereafter, being recruited back to football by his little brother. Thanks to his Phillies contract, tuition was covered; why not give it a shot?
“I didn’t know what to expect, since he hadn’t played wide receiver in like seven years,” Tanner said. “I knew he could do some things, but football, playing receiver’s more technical than some people realize, but I thought he did really good as a freshman. He was just a man-child.”
There was a bit of a learning curve, but as the season progressed he grew into a reliable receiving threat. He had 10 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown against Weber State, and five catches for 100 yards against perennial power Montana. The freshman finished with 36 catches for 509 yards (third on the team) and three touchdowns (second).
“Mitch’s good. I’m really comfortable trusting Mitch on different things,” Tanner said. “He’s a real go-get-it type of guy. I feel good giving him the chance to go get the ball over some small DBs. He’s the type of guy you like on the outside.”
This summer’s been a bit more routine.
“Just being able to lift all year last year, and all summer, was something I feel has really helped me get ready to play on the field,” he said. “And then just learning the offense, too. Last year, fall camp was the only chance I got to learn the offense, and only three or four weeks before game time, so having the offense under my belt, and knowing everything coach (wants) out of the receiving corps is really helpful this year.”
The 2016-17 school year was definitely a lifestyle adjustment for the former professional ballplayer.
“The whole school thing — I didn’t have to worry about textbooks and getting to class on time and waking up early,” Mitch said. “But it’s nice having a home base, and this is a place I’ve grown to love. Just being here is good. I love it.
“Baseball was kind of a different life,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t trade his diamond experience, “and it’s just kind of on to the next thing.”
While the expectations for Mitch on the football field aren’t what they were on the pitcher’s mound — he’s a student-athlete now, not a professional athlete — he’s not taking it any less seriously.
“I still want to treat football as a career, though. I want to do the best I can,” he said. “And that’s what I wanted to do in baseball, too, but I put a lot of pressure on myself in baseball, too, and that’s kind of what it taught me.”
The school thing has worked out well, too; he’s studying business and finance.
“The first year was kind of a learning curve, being out of school for five years, but I did alright,” he said. “It’s been an adjustment, but I’m just starting to get into a nice little pattern.”
Tanner, meanwhile, is studying secondary education, with a focus on physical education.
“It’s been going well,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s kind of my element, there.”
The Guellers share a house with set of brothers out of Nampa, Idaho, the aforementioned Hagen Graves and his brother Kody, a linebacker.
“It’s been really good for us,” Tanner said.
The Bengals open their 2017 season on Aug. 31 with a home game against Western Oregon, then hit the road for three weeks to play Utah State, the University of Nevada and the University of Northern Colorado.
Can they, as the sports cliche goes, make some noise this year?
“I think we can make a little noise,” Tanner said with a laugh. “I’d agree with that statement.”