SEGUIN – Odem alumni TJ Vela and CJ Romero played against each other one last time at Saturday’s Southwestern vs. Texas Lutheran University (TLU) game.
Vela and Romero have known each other their entire lives and consider themselves brothers.
Before parting ways for college, Vela was the Owls’ top offensive lineman having 62 tackles and two recovered fumbles on defense. Romero had 51 receptions for 925 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Former Athletic Director AJ Martinez commented that Vela and Romero are a big reason for Odem’s success, as well as his own.
“CJ and TJ have always been the hardest working athletes I have even coached,” said Martinez. “It doesn’t surprise me that they have put in the work necessary to be successful at the college level.”
“Both of these young men are a big part of the reason I enjoyed the long hours of coaching. They are great role models for many young Owls to look up to.”
Vela is currently a senior at Southwestern University, studying business and minoring in communications studies. He will be graduating in December and plays on the Pirates’ offensive line as right guard.
He said being at Southwestern has been a wonderful experience.
“I’ve learned so much, and improved so much as a player, as a individual, as a person, just in my time here,” said Vela. “So I mean, I’ve been very fortunate. Definitely looking back on my decision during my senior year, I’m happy I chose Southwestern.”
Leaving Southwestern will be hard for Vela. He said he will miss the team who has become like a family to him.
One of Vela’s best memories was of winning conference during his freshman year.
“It was a homecoming game and we beat our rival school, Trinity. It was a fun game, fun atmosphere. That was a great memory,” said Vela. “And, you know, I had just so many great times here playing with these guys, playing with my teammates. I developed so many good relationships.
“I have so many memories that I could just go on a tangent about. Playing TLU every year was pretty fun because they’re our rival school now, and so that’s always an interesting little game to play.”
Vela said it was strange playing against Romero for the first time freshman year.
“It was weird at first because like, we’ve been playing with each other since second grade when we started playing flag football in Callalen together. Then it was youth football together, junior high, high school and then we get to college and we’re not playing with each other anymore. We’re playing against one another,” added Vela.
He said now he looks forward to seeing Romero and see him succeed at Texas Lutheran University.
“I just want my brother to succeed because he’s a great friend and a great guy. And when he does good, that represents Odem really well,” said Vela.
Vela said he was looking forward to seeing his family and Odem residents as well getting back on the field.
“ I didn’t get to play last year because I tore my ACL. So every time I step on the field now it’s just a blessing and I really just enjoy the moment,” said Vela.
Romero is currently a senior at TLU studying kinesiology and will be graduating in May 2020. He plays as a wide receiver for the Bulldogs.
“It’s gone by a lot faster than I thought it would,” said Romero. “I’m a senior now and those four years just flew by faster than high school, honestly. But it’s been fun and I’m just trying and take it all in this last season. Every game, all the practices, and just the whole experience and being around the guys.”
Romero fondly remembers his first touchdown with the Bulldogs.
“We were in Conway, Arkansas and I was starting as a sophomore that year,” added Romero. “It was the first quarter and I scored my first touchdown. It happened so fast. I really couldn’t remember it. But it’ my favorite every because one, it was my first touchdown, and two, my parents were there to see it.”
Romero also felt weird playing against his former teammate and rival.
“When I see Southwestern doing good, it kind of makes me mad. But then I see TJ celebrating, doing what he used to do in high school and it makes me laugh and smile to think about the days when I was on that side with him, you know, celebrating with him,” said Romero.
“Before the game after the game, we’re going to be friends but during the game, we’re going to flip the switch and we just compete at the same time.
“I enjoy seeing him do good and I know he likes to see me doing good. I root for him and I know he roots for me.
“But we’re also both very competitive.”
Romero said he was looking forward to the highly anticipated game and seeing his former teammate recover from his ACL injury.
Vela and Romero both shared advice to young athletes wanting to play football in college.
“You think you’re working hard, but you got to work 10 times harder, “ added Vela. “There’s always going to be someone that’s working a little harder, trying to chase after you. Don’t get discourage. When something doesn’t go your way. You have to learn how to fight through the adversity.”
“College athletics isn’t a given. Not everyone gets do it. So when you’re playing in high school, don’t make your high school experience all about going to play college somewhere because if you do that, you’re not going to have fun. You’re not going to enjoy yourself and you won’t make any cool memories that you can talk to your friends about when you’re older.”
Romero agreed saying that academics are important and students need to find some place that feels comfortable and familiar.
“You’re going to be away from your parents and family, so you’re going to need to find a place that really feels like you’re at home and a place that you can call home for the next four years,” said Romero.
“Keep working hard no matter what anyone says. You can do anything you put your mind to, as long as you have faith and believe you can do whatever you want.”
The Bulldogs ultimately pulled a win over the Pirates at 27-0 on Saturday.
Even though they are rivals on the field, once they step off, they become brothers once again.
AJ Lopez is the assistant editor at the News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270 or at sanpatricio@mySouTex.com