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Baranek: Mister takes Richards from tweak to triumph

Richards' Tommy Mister. | Judy Fidkowski~For Sun-Times Media

Richards' Tommy Mister. | Judy Fidkowski~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:41AM



Injuries can cause some of the best-laid plans to go awry.

In the case of Richards football, however, an injury may have been one of the biggest blessings the program ever has had.

Actually, it wasn’t really an injury. It was more a tweak that junior quarterback Tommy Mister suffered to his left ankle Aug. 31 during a 15-13 loss to Morris.

Because Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan didn’t want a tweak to develop into something more serious, he shut Mister down for a week and installed sophomore Hasan Muhammed-Rogers at quarterback.

What happened next ... well, that’s our tale for today and one that might be told a few more times as Richards makes a run at the Class 6A state championship.

It’s a tale about self-realization, honesty, trust in a teammate and a very exciting reward.

Mister came to Richards as a freshman with dreams of becoming a starting running back. It’s what he did as a youth football player for the Glenwood Cougars.

While Mister had a dream, Richards had a problem at the freshman level. There were no obvious candidates to play quarterback. One day at summer practice, as he tells it, Mister was running the ball when he fumbled.

“After I went and got the ball, the coach told me to throw it back to him. I threw him the ball and he said, ‘You’re going to the quarterback line.’ So it was kind of funny how it started,” Mister said.

Not exactly a natural, Mister nonetheless grew into the role. For his sophomore season he was brought up to the varsity, where he threw for 746 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 489 yards and seven scores.

“He got much better as the season went on,” Sheehan said. “You could see he was getting more comfortable and the game was starting to slow down for him. And his footwork continued to improve. In the offseason he was a leader for us in the weight room.”

Sheehan said recruiters were starting to take serious notice of Mister, but more as an athlete than a potential quarterback. Muhammed-Rogers, meanwhile, came into camp after a year at quarterback for the freshman team.

“We knew Hasan could play as well,” Sheehan said. “We brought him along in the summer. He was obviously working behind Tommy and getting a lot of reps, but was actually starting at safety for us.”

And then along came Morris.

Mister already had rolled the ankle a few times during the summer, Sheehan said. During the Morris game Mister was in the process of a designed running play when while being tackled he rolled the ankle yet again. It hurt plenty, but Mister kept it to himself. He finished in the game.

A day later it was obvious something wasn’t right. It resulted in a tough decision for Sheehan, whose Bulldogs were to play the following week against an Evergreen Park team that in 2011 had embarrassed the Bulldogs 33-0 on their own Homecoming.

Sheehan didn’t let revenge be the deciding factor.

“We finally decided that instead of this being a seasonlong lingering thing, we’d get him a little rest, some treatment and play Hasan,” Sheehan said.

Muhammed-Rogers had a brilliant varsity debut at quarterback, throwing for 149 and two TDs and rushing for 79 more yards as Richards cruised 35-0.

When Mister returned to practice for the next week’s contest against Argo, Sheehan said he had intended to rotate the quarterbacking duties between both in surely what would have resulted in a lot of mixing and switching, and probably a confusing array of plays.

That Wednesday, after practice, Mister had a better idea.

“He said, ‘Why don’t we make this permanent? It can help the team in the long run.’ I asked him, ‘You’re OK with that?’ He said, Yeah.’ So we went ahead and made the move.”

The Bulldogs have never looked back. Muhammed-Rogers, with 959 yards of passing good for 14 touchdowns, confidently has led Richards to a 9-1 record. Mister, despite missing one full game, is among the area leaders with 1,025 rushing yards and 15 TDs.

The two have become quite a dynamite dual-threat. It makes one wonder, what if Mister had been selfish when he came back? Mister himself said he was just using good logic.

“After that Evergreen Park game I could see that he was real good,” Mister said of Muhammed-Rogers. “He was better than I was in my sophomore year when I was back there. I knew that I would be going to college to play, but not as a quarterback. I saw he could take the reins over and play quarterback at a high level, and I knew I could trust him to lead us to a state championship.”

On the flip side ...

“Not to take anything away from our running backs, but we needed a running back who could just pound it,” Mister said. “I knew that I could do it, because I did it in seventh and eighth grade. Knowing that he could play quarterback the way he could, I just took it as an upside because then I could go back to running back and receiver, and show my talent there and we could take care of business.”

It’s a plan that may bring quite a playoff payoff.



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