Sam Mustipher learns well and is always thinking — one of the keys to his rapid rise from the Bears’ practice squad to starting center.
That was even evident when Mustipher, 24, was asked about his weight gain during the offseason. He hopes it will give him the size and strength to better battle the bigger defensive tackles and erase a key knock on his ability to sustain an NFL career — that he’s undersized.
“If I play my cards [right], I’ll probably get a sponsorship out of this,” Mustipher said. “I love Lou’s [Lou Malnati’s pizza] — thin crust, deep dish, whatever. It’s all good.”
And it wasn’t just pizza.
“Everything,” Mustipher said when asked about his weight-gain diet. “I ate whatever I wanted to. It was an offensive lineman’s dream, and just trying to get as strong as possible. That was my only goal.”
By his listed weights, the 6-2 Mustipher is virtually unchanged from 2020 — from 311 pounds to 314. But he likely was lighter than 311 last year and is a much more fit 314 this year. Working with Bears sports-science coordinator Jennifer Gibson, Mustipher not only got bigger, he got stronger and in better shape.
“I don’t think it’s the weight as much as it is muscle,” Mustipher said. “I think I’m at the highest amount of lean body mass that I’ve ever had in my life, which was huge. That was something I worked with Jen Gibson in figuring out, ‘What do I need to do this offseason? How do I need to train? What are the foods I need to be putting in my body to reach those goals?’
“So my strength numbers went up. That was the critical thing. You can get big and just get fat and slow. I want to get strong and explosive.”
“He’s in the best shape of his life” is a classic NFL training-camp storyline that often sounds better in July than it does in December. But Mustipher has come so far, so quickly that he’s primed to take the next step.
At training camp a year ago, he was an afterthought — a 2019 undrafted free agent taking third-team reps with Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Corey Levin ahead of him. He was headed for the practice squad.
Today he’s the unquestioned No. 1 center after a promising eight-game stint as a starter following injuries to Daniels and Whitehair.
“Pretty cool story,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He leads by actions. Last year, the chance he had to play, he took advantage of it. The game means a lot to him. The guys look to him as a leader. He’s super-smart. He’s a quarterback’s best friend.”
Though Whitehair and Daniels are more established, Mustipher could develop into the leader of the Bears’ offensive line. Already, older players seem to follow his lead.
“The sky is the limit for the kid,’’ Whitehair said. ‘‘I just love the mentality he comes with every day. He comes in ready to work. He’s one of the first guys in the building. He’s always studying his iPad every time you see him at his locker. He’s always trying to perfect his game. And that’s helped him get to where he’s at today. And he’s only going to get better.”
It’s a different world for Mustipher now, but he knows the trick to staying there is to take the work ethic that got him this far and turn it up a notch.
“It’s the same hunger and passion and love and energy that I had for the game when I was an undrafted guy,” Mustipher said. “The mindset is still the same. As long as I’m helping the Bears win, I’m going to have a job. So it’s been awesome. Training camp every year is all football, and I love that. Best job in the world.”