To see the video of this interview, watch Playnextlevel's interview with Tony Romo in the Film Room.
Romo took the time to tell PNL his recruiting story.
PNL: Take us back to Burlington, Wisconsin, and your high school recruiting story.
Tony Romo: When I was coming out of Burlington, really going into my junior year toward the end, I wasn’t sure if I was going to play basketball or football, actually. And I actually got letters and different things from different colleges, but nothing really where the coaches were calling as much. I mean, I’d get one here or there randomly, but I wasn’t that highly recruited. As I moved into my senior year, I started to know that football was getting a little more attention for me; that was when I really started to think that I was going to move into football.
I got really only about three real coaches, scholarship-wise, who were calling and wanting me to visit—it was mostly in-state stuff from Wisconsin, non-scholarship type things. I really wanted to play. It was a big deal at the time for me—that I can remember—to get a scholarship and go off and play. One was Eastern Illinois, another was Mankato State. I went on those visits and it ended up being a great time, it was a great atmosphere, and great people. But, the thing that sold me about Eastern was really the coaches. The coach who came to watch me play basketball, Roy Wittke, he struck a chord and I really enjoyed him. He made me feel very comfortable and [let me know] that they wanted me. It was an easy decision, but I ended up going there on a half-scholarship, and I chose that over a better scholarship at Division II Mankato State. Part of it was the competitive side of me wanting to see if I could play at a higher level. Eastern Illinois was I-AA.
When I got there, I was not prepared for college football. I was raw. I didn’t take many five or, especially, seven-step drops. It was a whole new world in some ways, but I started to improve. I started to see what I needed to do to get better and be committed to it. It was a really enjoyable experience.
PNL: How do you respond when people, who don’t know you, say you can or can’t do something?
Tony Romo: Every time someone told me I couldn’t do something, or I can remember people being like, “He can’t play Division I football.” Now that I think about it, how silly is it that you’d even pay attention to something like that. Just the amount of people that thought you couldn’t do something or told you you’re not good enough or expected you to fail—it’s just mind-boggling. If I’d have let that set me back or if I’d have really listened to any of those people… they had no idea. They don’t know what’s inside of you or know what’s inside of me. I’ve failed plenty of times, but I get back up and I get better. It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish.
PNL: The process of improvement continues even to this day, doesn’t it?
Tony Romo: No question. You’re always fighting. For me, it’s about improvement now. I’ve learned this lesson a lot in life: that the most enjoyable thing about sports is improving as a team, individually, and organizationally as a whole. I think it’s very enjoyable when your team gets better—and you can see that—and you improve as an athlete. You’re always trying to take that next step. Part of taking that next step is trying something, putting yourself out there. You’re in a big game, in a big situation; you’re gonna be in that. If you’re there, people are going to form opinions about you; people are going to say negative things, but that’s part of the process. And if you know that there’s going to be another day—there’s going to be another year—you’ll be better and you’ll be more prepared next time.
PNL: If you were back in high school and went through recruiting again, would you take advantage of today’s technology to market yourself?
Tony Romo: Absolutely. I think anytime you can get your picture or a video to coaches to let them see it—it’s a benefit. To not take advantage of that in this day and age is almost silly in some ways. I think there’s no question that I would have taken advantage, if I could have, back then.
PNL: As a multi-sport athlete, do you encourage players to compete in other sports?
Tony Romo: Well, if I would have chosen basketball—which I probably would’ve back in seventh through eleventh grade—I doubt if you’d be talking to me right now at this moment because I wouldn’t have known I was good enough in a different sport. Your body changes. You don’t necessarily know what gifts and tools you have if you put all of your focus into one thing so early. I’m a firm believer that you play everything and you let the chips fall and see what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. Because really, the combination of what you’re good at and passionate about usually goes together. I think, for me, it was the right way to happen.
PNL: What role did your parents play in your development?
Tony Romo: My parents were fantastic. I couldn’t ask for better parents. My family’s love and support is there unconditionally, whether I perform at a high level or don’t. It’s a very comforting feeling: knowing that you can always go back [to family] and none of that’s going to matter. That’s a great, great quality.