It's no coincidence that different people who know Sam Mustipher best use similar words to describe the Bears' first-year center.
Rookie tight end Cole Kmet, who has rejoined his former Notre Dame teammate in Chicago, labels him as "a really smart football player" and "really an intellectual."
Bears coach Matt Nagy revealed that he's known from Day 1 that Mustipher is "extremely bright," while offensive coordinator Bill Lazor characterized the 6-2, 314-pounder as "really an impressive guy as far as intelligence" who's "tough, smart and hungry."
Listening to those testimonials, you almost expect Mustipher to jog onto the field Sunday for his first NFL start with a pair of thick engineering textbooks tucked under his arm. After all, he earned his computer science degree from Notre Dame, graduating with a 3.6 grade-point average.
Mustipher, who is expected to start in place of the injured Cody Whitehair Sunday when the Bears host the Saints, is pleased that his coaches and teammates see him in that light.
"That's a critical factor for any football player I feel like; to be smart, to be intelligent," Mustipher said Friday. "But not only that—to be able to apply it on the field is important; to be able to see things quickly, diagnose things and then go out and execute. And that's something that I take pride in. So I love that people within the locker room look at me that way. I hope I can continue doing that."
Mustipher signed with the Bears last year as an undrafted free agent and spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad. He opened this year on the practice squad as well before being elevated to the active roster Oct. 14 after left guard James Daniels was lost for the season with a chest injury.
Mustipher mixes his intelligence with a strong work ethic. He told reporters that he's always prepared like a starter—even when he was on the practice squad—and regularly attends early morning quarterback meetings along with Whitehair.
"Cody goes and I feel like if I'm the second-string center, I want to be ready each and every week," Mustipher said. "So if Cody is there, then I'm there. He's prepared me very well to do that."
Mustipher was prepared when called upon last Monday night in Los Angeles after Whitehair exited with a calf injury late in the third quarter.
"It was exciting," Mustipher said. "Any time you get an opportunity to play on Monday Night Football, I understood the opportunity I had in front of me. Obviously, [I] hated seeing Cody go down, but you know that's an opportunity. It's a great challenge, and that's how I looked at it. I'm excited for this week as well."
“That’s a critical factor for any football player I feel like; to be smart, to be intelligent.” Bears center Sam Mustipher
Mustipher grew up in a football family in Owings Mills, Maryland. His father, Sam Sr., played nose tackle at West Virginia. His younger brother, P.J., is currently a junior defensive tackle at Penn State. The Bears center attended his first NFL game when he was only four years old during a trip to visit relatives in Miami.
Given Mustipher's lifelong love affair with the sport, his level of eagerness and excitement in anticipation of his first NFL start cannot be overstated.
"I've been playing football since I was five years old," Mustipher said. "Growing up, football was all I knew. My dad was a high school football coach. I used to ride on the bus to the JV games.
"I've never played quarterback, I never threw a ball. I've always played offensive line and defensive line. A lot of people dream about throwing that touchdown pass. I dreamed about making that clean block on the best defensive player you can. And I know that sounds corny, but that's what I prepared for, that's what I trained for."