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Clark: Tommy Mister learning all about St. Rita vs. Mount Carmel

St. Rita’s Tommy Mister (right) is switching his college choice from IowState Indiana.  |  File photo

St. Rita’s Tommy Mister (right) is switching his college choice from Iowa State to Indiana. | File photo

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Tommy Mister isn’t a stranger to big games and rivalries.

But this week has been a learning experience for the St. Rita senior quarterback.

“I haven’t really seen one like this one,” Mister said of the hype surrounding the Mustangs’ showdown with visiting Mount Carmel Friday (7:30 p.m., Ch. 26.2).

Mister’s presence is one of several intriguing story lines in the 91st renewal of one of the state’s greatest prep rivalries in any sport. He’s unlike most of the players, coaches and even fans in that he’s a newcomer to Carmel/Rita.

For most, this is a family affair with kids coming to the game with dads and uncles and brothers before they wind up playing in it as teens. Typical of this are Mustangs seniors Matt Byrne and Derrick Miles, among others. Miles’ dad was a running back for St. Rita 30 years ago, while Matt is the third Byrne brother to play for the Mustangs.

But this is all new for Mister, who spent the past three seasons at Richards before transferring in during the offseason. He got a little taste of the intensity of the South Side Catholic rivalries when the Mustangs won a Week 1 thriller over Marist at Soldier Field.

And he’s already been through homecoming at St. Rita. “It was crazy,” he said of that week. (But) homecoming doesn’t even compare to how we started off (this) school week.”

Mister is aware of some of the other factors at play for this meeting.

“It’s even better because of how good both of the teams are, both going into the game 4-0,” he said. “We’re trying to prove our beginning of the year isn’t a fluke. They want to prove (last season’s) state championship isn’t a fluke and they can do it again.”

The postseason isn’t anything either of the coaches want to think about yet, not with the regular season at just the halfway point.

“Right now you’re just focused on winning the Catholic League Blue,” said Mount Carmel’s Frank Lenti, the state’s all-time winningest coach with 330 victories. “We’ve gotten by (Brother) Rice, literally gotten by them. And you still have three very formidable opponents (left).”

“The way we coach it, for us it’s a game that comes up every year,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “It’s our first conference game, it’s Week 5.”

But playoff talk can’t be avoided, especially because both teams might wind up in the same class for the first time since 2005. Though we won’t know for sure till the 256-team field is finalized Oct. 26, both teams are now projected to be in Class 7A and could be on course for their fifth IHSA playoff meeting.

Mister can only imagine how much hoopla that match-up would generate, if this week is any indication.

“The fans are crazy,” he said. “They are crazy about the schools. There’s so much school pride with every Catholic school.”

Mister hasn’t been at St. Rita very long, but he’s already getting a sense of that tradition.

“You start to think about all the other guys who played your position and played in this (Mount Carmel/St. Rita) game before,” he said.

St. Rita is planning a pregame dinner and halftime ceremony to honor some of those players: the members of the 1963 team that was named national champs by the National Sports News Service. Mount Carmel is marking a notable milestone, too, the 25th anniversary of the 1988 team that gave Lenti the first of his IHSA-record 10 titles.

Now it’s time for the 2013 teams to step onto the big stage and maybe make a little history of their own.



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