Fellonte Misher wears his heart on both forearms, a testament to love and loss, to faith and fellowship. Mostly, it’s a reminder.
“I got to just make sure,” Old Dominion’s senior safety said, “just as a remembrance, that he’s here all the time.”
The tattoos are a portal, a door into Misher’s soul, his pain and his triumph. The right forearm features an intricate, reverent picture of Jesus. The left is more detailed: The gates of heaven are shown opening up to stairs that ascend toward the base of a giant glowing cross, with the word “DAD” — a halo resting on the “A” — floating above.
Wherever Misher goes, Dad’s there. The arms. The heart. The shoulder. Close enough to whisper.
“(During) hard times, I just talk to him,” Misher said. “People think I’m talking to myself, sometimes. I’m actually just talking to my dad. It calms me down. It helps me make the right choices. Like, ‘Should I really go through with this? Should I? Shouldn’t I? I know you wouldn’t want me to do that.’”
Lawrence Misher was shot and killed at an auto detailing center 16 years ago. He was just 24; son Fellonte was 5. The story, as Fellonte understands it, is that his father went to work and happened upon a shooter, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time trying to settle a score.
“I don’t even remember if they found the right (place),” said Misher, whose Monarchs (3-5, 1-3 Conference USA) visit UTSA (1-7, 1-3 C-USA) Saturday on ASN. “It wasn’t even meant for him.
“I learned to forgive. To him, I guess, that was the most important thing, was murdering someone. I’ll let God deal with him. And I forgive him for it.
“I mean, it turned me into the person I am today. I don’t know how it would be if he didn’t do that.”
Misher was born into one of the rougher parts of Washington, D.C., handed unspeakable tragedy before he was old enough to truly process it, his family forced from their home when he was young, a childhood split between the care of his mother and grandmother.
“It kind of seems like I had two moms at that time,” Misher said. “I had to answer to both of them.”
Fair or unfair didn’t matter; it was about doing right. Doing right and going forward, the big picture, the end game, growing up quicker than any kid should.
“That kind of made me, in a lot of ways, more responsible with things,” Misher said. “Like making sure my little brother is safe and checking with my mother when my mother is looking for me, I’d tell her where I am. My father didn’t tell my grandma where he was … I wouldn’t want that to happen to my mother.”
It was about being a pillar for Mom when she needed it. About being a mentor and guide to his little brother, now a high-school sophomore.
“It was a tough neighborhood,” Misher explained. “People doing drugs in the hallway. You walk out the door, you try to go down the steps, down in the stairwell, you see people in the stairwell doing stuff they’re not supposed to do. Other kids in the neighborhood doing things they’re not supposed to do.”
“He’s a typical D.C. kid; trust is a hard thing for him in the beginning,” offered Kermit Buggs, the Monarchs’ safeties coach and assistant defensive coordinator. “You’ve just got to earn your way in.”
Buggs trusts Misher to make the calls on the ODU secondary, a faith rewarded: The 6-2 senior is a load, heading into this weekend ranked among the Top 10 in C-USA in tackles (7.6 per game) and fumbles forced (two). He was credited with 12 stops against N.C. State on Sept. 19, then 14 more against Charlotte on Oct. 14 and nine on Halloween against Western Kentucky despite the lingering after-effects from a stinger.
“Me, personally, I would grade myself maybe like a ‘C,’” Misher said. “I feel like I was strong, but the last few games, I just haven’t been myself. But I’m going to get back to the way I’ve been playing, used to playing, and with (Saturday’s) game, get back to what I’m used to doing.
“I’ve been playing through it and it hasn’t really affected me. It’s just a been a matter of just getting back to the aggressive nature I would have at first, and not trying to favor it more than the other shoulder.”
In the meantime, Misher and Buggs have worked to try and smooth over some of the rougher patches — balance, angles, form and fit and certain run plays — in his game, worked to strengthen that trust.
“He’s a very smart, studious kid,” the coach said. “His technique is really improving week to week. That’s the best thing about him I’ve seen since I’ve gotten here. He’s improved as a player, and I can’t be anything but happy about the (progress) he’s had this season.”
And the man he’s become. Misher says he’s on track to become the first in his immediate family to graduate from a four-year college. Mom loves that. Grandma, too.
“We don’t talk about (the past) as much; we try to talk about what’s the next step,” Buggs said. “Those things are his story. We want him to (thrive) and be successful … his path has to be different than his dad’s path was. And he’s got to break that cycle.
“But they’ve done a great job — his grandmother and mother have done a great job in making sure he understands what his life is supposed to be and where he needs to go.”
Forward. Onward. Upward. Fellonte Misher knows he has angels on his side, seen and unseen, beaming with every step.