He became a top NFL quarterback, but every student-athlete can learn from the mistakes he made along the way.
While he’s best known as a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and is now a noted football commentator, Tony Romo was actually an unknown coming out of high school. And regardless of what sport you play, Romo’s story of how he went from high school unknown to the NFL also offers several lessons to apply to your own college scholarship pursuit.
Find Your Focus
Tony Romo was a multi-sport athlete at Burlington High School, a school with about 1,100 students in Burlington, Wisconsin. While he was a two-year starter on the football team and earned all-county and all-state honors, Romo also played basketball, golf, and tennis. While he threw for 3,700 yards and 42 touchdowns as the football team’s quarterback, Romo also graduated from Burlington High school as the school’s all-time leading scorer in basketball. His football stats didn’t stand out to many recruiters, but his basketball achievements did earn Romo plenty of recruiting interest from mid-major basketball schools.
While there’s nothing wrong with being a multi-sport athlete, Romo’s stats in football didn’t stand out to recruiters as much as his basketball ability. Further, Romo often said he wasn’t considering playing college football until his senior season. That lack of focus meant he was likely never even considered by most college football programs and highlights the importance of knowing the path you want to pursue early on. The sooner you decide the sport you want to pursue in college, the sooner you can focus on making your goal a reality. You can still play other sports in high school, but prioritizing the path you want to pursue in college early will allow you more time to improve your game and raise your recruiting profile in that sport.
Keep Your Options Open
Once he decided he wanted to play football in college, Romo assumed the University of Wisconsin would come calling. Beyond that, Romo figured he’d be recruited by other Big 10 schools. However, as he was still essentially an unknown quantity as a quarterback when Romo didn’t get an offer from Wisconsin, any other Big 10 school, or any Division I school, he found himself scrambling for an opportunity. That opportunity ultimately came in the form of a partial scholarship offer from Division I-AA school in Eastern Illinois.
While Romo did get a sniff from the University of Colorado late in the recruiting process, his decision to focus only on Wisconsin and the Big 10 likely cost him an opportunity for a full-ride DI scholarship. Romo’s experience is a reminder that, like Tom Brady before him, you catch more fish with a bigger net. Regardless of your talent, don’t limit your recruiting goals to just one school or conference. It’s just fine to have a dream school, but remember to keep as many options open as possible should things not work out with your primary target.
Stats Don’t Always Equal Scholarship
Throwing for 3,700 yards and 42 touchdowns in two years as a high school starter is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, as Romo didn’t attend any high-profile football camps or market himself to college coaches, those stats were his most marketable asset once he did choose to pursue football in college. However, because he put up those numbers playing for a relatively small school against a comparable small school competition, many recruiters weren’t impressed.
Romo’s experience shows that you shouldn’t focus your efforts to be recruited on statistics alone. Make sure you have a highlight reel that not only shows your ability to excel now but also your potential to compete at the next level as well. If you’re at a smaller school look for camps or showcases where you can demonstrate your ability to perform at a higher level. Stats are helpful to fill out recruiting profiles and highlight videos, but character, coachability, and academic achievements can help fill in the bigger picture most coaches look for.
Don’t Give Up
When no Division I football scholarship offers came his way, Tony Romo could have easily found a basketball scholarship. Even after he went to Eastern Illinois on a partial scholarship, Romo started slowly at QB and his coaches considered converting him into a tight end. However, Romo buckled down, made the most of his opportunity, and became a three-year starter at quarterback, a three-time Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, a three-time All American, and the winner of the Walter Payton Award as the best player in Division I-AA.
When those accolades didn’t translate into him being selected in the NFL draft, Romo kept working and managed to earn a contract with the Cowboys as a free agent, ultimately earning a roster spot as a holder for placekicks. Romo’s work ethic impressed the Cowboys and he slowly moved up the depth chart and, after three seasons on the sideline, Romo would ultimately take over as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback in 2006, a position he held until his retirement after the 2016 season.
If your goal is to earn a scholarship and compete at the collegiate level, Tony Romo’s example shows why you should never give up. Even if it’s not the perfect scenario you’d envisioned, keep your options open, take the opportunity you have, make the most of it, keep working, and don’t give up until you’ve fulfilled your dream.
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