St. Francis' Rittenhouse manages diabetes while becoming Division I QB
Tommy Rittenhouse is accustomed to the odd glances by fans during games.
The St. Francis senior quarterback occasionally will take a seat on the sidelines and start popping Skittles into his mouth.
Or start chugging a Gatorade.
Regardless of the pressure on the field or the big-game ramifications, Rittenhouse -- if needed -- will force himself to relax, take a seat and start ingesting Skittles, or drinking Gatorade or find anything with sugar.
"Some people will look at me, just chilling on a chair after an offensive series and see me eating Skittles and I see them giving weird looks at me," Rittenhouse said.
Don't let Rittenhouse, an Illinois State recruit, fool you. He's no team-first player looking to incite the opposing fans. Instead, he's focused on tending to his health. Rittenhouse said he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 4 years old.
Playing quarterback, avoiding defenders, directing an offense and leading one of the top programs in the DuPage County is a tough enough job. But when Rittenhouse's blood sugar levels drop too low or rise too high, it's a big health concern.
"It's extremely hard playing football with diabetes," Rittenhouse said. "I've been diabetic for 14 years now. My sugar levels spike during games because of the adrenaline. I can feel the effects during the game.
"This year, I had one game I almost had to sit out a series. In my sophomore and junior years, I had a couple of games when I had to sit out a series."
The 6-foot, 185-pound Rittenhouse admitted he hasn't met many players in his situation -- playing quarterback, headed to college and forced to handle the pressure of big games. Rittenhouse said his older sister, Hannah, and a few relatives have helped him.
Rittenhouse, the captain of the DuPage County All-Area Football Team, showed he's able to overcome all obstacles to be a success on and off the field. He completed 70 of 120 passes for 1,278 yards and 20 touchdowns with just 2 interceptions this season. He ran for 282 yards and 3 TDs to lead the Spartans to a 6-0 record. The Spartans finished the season ranked No. 3 in Class 4A in the final AP poll.
"Tommy is a leader and what's he's done from a program standpoint set him apart," St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said. "He helped build this program. What's remarkable is he wears a pump every game and has to check his sugar levels. He deals with that day in and day out. He has to always take care of himself. He's had to be taken out of games because his levels got too high or he got nausea.
"I've not had a player with diabetes. He's done a remarkable job in his career. I'm biased, but I haven't seen a quarterback do what Tommy has done in this area. He's as good as it gets."
Rittenhouse, a three-year starter, chose to attend St. Francis over Geneva and Marmion. Through his hard work and team-first attitude, he played a major role in helping build the St. Francis program into an area powerhouse. The Spartans finished with a 24-5 record in Rittenhouse's career.
Rittenhouse's rise mirrored the program's development. He arrived on the campus as a 5-7, 125-pounder ready to lead the Spartans past a 1-8 record in his freshman season.
"Going into my sophomore year, I had the mindset I was going to compete for the job," he said. "I was still pretty small, but I worked hard in practice and over the summer. I had a great group of seniors ahead of me in my sophomore and junior years. They took me under their wing. As time went on, I got bigger, faster and stronger. I never thought about myself or my legacy.
"I just did what's best for the team. This senior class is really special. We have great chemistry and we really bought into the program and coach McMillen and the other coaches. We loved getting an opportunity to leave a legacy like we did."
Senior wide receiver Tyler Bishop said Rittenhouse never showed any frustrations from being a diabetic affect his attitude or play. Bishop, who caught 15 passes for 255 yards and 6 touchdowns this season, said Rittenhouse was the ultimate leader -- and a bit of a comedian.
"(Sometimes) Tommy would pull small pranks on our offensive coordinator, and it would have everyone laughing," Bishop said. "He would always be dancing and having a great time always with a smile on his face."