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Richards' Tommy Mister stiff arms Shepards Devon Landfair at Richards. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
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 has ever had.
Actually, it wasn’t really an injury. It was more a tweak that junior quarterback Tommy Mister suffered to his left ankle on Aug. 31 during a 15-13 to Morris.
Because Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan didn’t want a tweak to develop into something more serious, he shut Mister down for one 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 a Class 6A state championship.
It’s a tale about self-realization, honesty, and trust in a teammate and friend, and a very exciting reward. But first, some background.
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.
But 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. So I threw him the ball and he said, ‘You’re going to the quarterback line.’ It was kind of funny how it started.”
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 played very well, 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 the leader in the weightroom. He pushed guys and everything.”
And when summer camp opened in August, he was firmly entrenched in the quarterback role. 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 had already rolled the ankle a few times during the summer, Sheehan said. During the Morris game, he 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 stayed in the game, which the Bulldogs eventually lost, 15-13.
A day later it was pretty obvious that something wasn’t right. It was a pretty 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 season-long 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 following week’s contest against Argo, Sheehan said he had intended for both to rotate the quarterbacking duties in what surely would have resulted in a lot of mixing, switching, and probably confusing array of plays.
But on that Wednesday, after practice, Argo week, 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 decided to make the move.”
The Bulldogs have never looked back. Muhammed-Rogers has confidently led Richards to a 9-1 record. Mister, despite missing one full game, is among the area leaders with 830 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
Imagine if Mister had been selfish when he came back? Mister himself said he was just using good logic.
“Well... I knew he was a great player,” Mister said of Muhammed-Rogers. “And not to take anything away from our running backs, but we needed a running back who could just pound it. 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 take care of business.”