Tony Romo and Caron Butler shared an on-court rivalry, now they're each a key part of the Dallas sports landscape
01:53 PM CDT on Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Column by TODD ARCHER / The Dallas Morning News | email@example.com
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Their faces were so fresh and young, but they wore serious expressions without a hint of what would be in their futures.
Tony Romo, holding a basketball in his right hand, wearing his No. 35 Burlington (Wis.) High School jersey. Caron Butler, No. 54, in his Racine Park jersey, gold chain around his thick neck and the trace of a mustache.
"I remember it was after the season, and we were all kind of getting ready to go our separate ways," said Horlick's Shane Krause of the 1998 All-Racine County boys basketball photo shoot. "Kind of closing the chapter on one thing, and obviously we wished each other luck and hoped everybody did big things, whatever it was. At that point you don't really know exactly what's going to happen."
There would not have been odds that Romo would become a starting quarterback in the NFL, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the most famous athletes in the country. Butler's chances of starring in the NBA were a little better but still somewhat improbable after multiple scrapes with the law in his early teen years.
The fact that they call Dallas their professional home now – Romo for the Cowboys, Butler for the Mavericks – is beyond belief
File 1998 / Racine Journal Times
File 1998 / Racine Journal Times
Tony Romo (far left) and Caron Butler (54) joined All-Racine County players Shane Krause (13) and Taron Baker and coach of the year Jeff Christensen.
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"I can't believe it would surprise anybody if they're watching both of those guys play now," said Romo's high school coach, Steve Berezowitz. "It's fun looking back on it, but I don't think anyone was predicting that this would ever happen."
Twelve years ago, Romo and Butler were rivals on the basketball court. They made up two-fifths of the All-Racine County basketball team with Krause; Taron Barker, who went to the University of Cincinnati; and Dominic DaPra, a star soccer player who was selected in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft by Kansas City.
Romo and Krause, who played at Angelo State, were the co-players of the year in the Southeast Conference over Butler, but Butler was a first-team all-state pick.
Butler averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds. Romo averaged 24.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists and was a third-team all-state pick. He remains Burlington's all-time leading scorer with 1,074 points.
Today, Romo and Butler own large parts of the Dallas sports landscape.
"It's luck," Romo said. "No, really, it doesn't matter where you're from. It's about the work you put in."
They played only one game against each other. Racine Park won, 72-42, at Burlington on Dec. 9, 1997. Butler scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter with Park closing the game on a 33-10 run. Romo had 12 points.
"They just crushed us," Berezowitz remembered.
Specifics are fuzzy, but they knew something was special about the other as they competed.
"You could tell from day one that he had the athleticism and the ability to control his body in a way that not many kids that age can at that size," Romo said. "You knew right away he was going places."
Said Butler, "He was a great scorer. His IQ for the game was unbelievable. He set you up, put you in great situations."
Butler and Romo have not had much time to catch up since the February trade between the Mavericks and Wizards that brought Butler to Dallas, but both said they look forward to talking more.
They were more friendly than friends back in the day, with Burlington and Racine separated by 29 miles. Their paths have crossed over the years because Romo's cousin, Andy Alberth, is friends with Butler.
A couple of years ago, Romo gave Butler a signed Cowboys jersey after beating the Redskins. Earlier this month, Romo attended a Mavericks game but could not sit anonymously among the crowd.
"He truly is a great dude, hard worker, a guy that comes back to be a pillar in the community, doing a lot of work," Butler said. "I'm truly happy for him."
Krause, who is a teacher and basketball coach at Leander High School near Round Rock, was a teammate of both in AAU basketball. He and Butler spent five summers together, traveling across the country for tournaments. Krause and Romo were teammates for one summer and played against each other in golf tournaments.
"I kept telling people, but nobody believed me, that this guy [Romo] is going to start at some point," Krause said. "When I would randomly talk to a Cowboy fan or a high school football coach, they were like, 'Who's this guy?' He's a gamer. You wouldn't expect anything else if you know Tony well. It wasn't his goal to just make it to the NFL. He wouldn't stop. Same with Caron. Once he got to Connecticut, he wasn't going to stop there. Both these guys are driven, and their talent is rare."
College: Went on to play at Angelo State.
Now: A teacher and basketball coach at Leander High School near Round Rock.
College: Went on to play football at Eastern Illinois.
Pro: Signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cowboys in 2003. Is now their starting quarterback and a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
College: Went on to play two seasons at Connecticut.
Pro: Picked 10th by Miami in 2002. Also played with the LA Lakers and Washington before coming to the Mavericks on Feb. 13.
College: Went to the University of Cincinnati