CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- There was Tommy Mister right in the middle of the top group of quarterbacks at Sunday's Illinois Nike Football Training Camp. Northwestern commitment and ESPN 150 quarterback Matt Alviti was just ahead of him. Purdue commit Danny Etling just behind.
No, the play that had Mister nestled among the 2013 elite and among the hot names in the 2014 class happened almost two years ago. It came during a standard drill during his first summer camp as a freshman.
Running through the exercise as a running back, Mister did the one thing a back can never do -- fumble the football. Mister ran, picked it up and tossed it back to his coach. Actually, he rifled it back, forcing his coach to double take.
"I threw it 15 yards down the field to a coach," Mister said. "He switched me to the quarterback line, and ever since then I stuck with it."
However, Mister was not exactly receptive to changing positions. Then he had a high school epiphany.
"I wanted to stick at running back for the first couple weeks of camp," he said, "but then I was like 'What's better than playing quarterback?' "
The freshman team that summer had already run through all of its options at quarterback and didn't have a viable solution at the position. The pass brought some hope that the athletic, 6-foot-1, 180-pound right-hander could take over the reins as the starting quarterback.
Mister excelled from day one.
"He had a good arm and is fast, and we had some good running backs as a freshman, so the best way to get him the ball was to put it in his hands every play," Richards coach Tony Sheehan said in a telephone interview. "He's a smart kid and picked it up quickly, and after a couple of days, they knew they had their guy.
"Us varsity guys don't get to see freshman play all the time, but they played a lot of Thursday games, so when we finished our Thursday pre-game stuff we'd stick around and you could tell off the bat he was a special kid. The ceiling is very high for him."
The learning curve was tough at times, both Mister and Sheehan admit, but Sheehan said Mister is always the first one in and the last one out of the locker room. He is always the one to set up throwing sessions with receivers, and he had the complete respect of the seniors even as a sophomore and first-year varsity player.
Two of Richards' first three games this past season were against stout programs Morris and Lemont. Sheehan said he "threw him to wolves," but Mister came out relatively unscathed and was a completely different quarterback by the end of the season, when he led his team to a playoff win.
It did not take long for those outside of the Richards program to see those same qualities and realize the potential Mister has at the position. After just one season at varsity as a sophomore, Mister already has the attention of college programs. Offer No. 1 came through last week when Notre Dame extended him a scholarship. Illinois followed suit a day later, and Northwestern and Northern Illinois are both interested, too.
"(Colleges) love his size, they love his work ethic -- he's a quarterback and not afraid of the weight room. He's one of our strongest guys," Sheehan said. "His athleticism is off the charts. He just makes plays."
Not that Mister is already leaning the Fighting Irish's way, but he does like to model himself in the shape of a current Notre Dame quarterback. Mister began watching tape in eighth grade of Irish freshman signal-caller Everett Golson.
"The only thing I know about (Notre Dame) is Everett Golson," Mister said. "I study his performance. That's who I try to play like. He can run with the best of them, but he's a pass-first quarterback."
That's what Mister is trying to become. Not bad for a former running back with a fumbling problem.