Robenson Therezie and Ruben Carter Jr. did everything together as teenagers growing up in Miami. They spent afternoons at the beach, went to movies, and played football for Jackson High. They even posed together for their graduation photo, which is framed and sits on a living room mantel in the Carter family’s green Allapattah home, where the two boys shared a bedroom.
Come Monday, though, the two virtual siblings will be anything but brotherly. When Florida State faces Auburn in the Rose Bowl for the BCS National Championship, Therezie and Carter will be on opposite sides, each trying to fulfill his dream at the expense of the other.
“Who’d have thought?” said Therezie, a defensive back for Auburn.
Said Carter, a backup offensive lineman for the Seminoles: “I’m not going to disappoint him. He’s going to want me to bring it all, bring my best at him, and he’s going to do the same thing.”
Neither could have imagined such a scenario while growing up in South Florida, playing on the same Optimist teams coached by Carter’s father, Ruben Carter Sr., and then on into high school at Jackson. They talked about playing for a national championship one day, but not as adversaries.
They were as close as two teenagers could be.
“Two peas in a pod,” Carter Jr. said.
“Inseparable,” said Janet Carter, his mother.
Best friends both. Only Therezie and Carter didn’t have a typical teenage friendship.
While Carter was raised by devoutly religious parents who demanded order and discipline in their home, Therezie was one of eight kids raised by a single mom who struggled to make ends meet, in a crime-and-drug-infested Little Haiti neighborhood.
By the time Therezie was 14, Ruben Carter Jr. had grown so concerned about his friend’s welfare and living environment that he asked his parents whether they would mind letting him move in with them.
“My parents love helping people and they raised me that way,” Carter said.
After a family sit-down meeting, they allowed Therezie into their home.
“I said, ‘Caddy, this is your house, too,” said Ruben Carter Sr., referring to the nickname — Cadillac — that he gave Therezie. “Whatever goes on in this house, you’re a part of.”
Carter Sr., who once served as a local church pastor, ran a tight ship. When he coached in Optimist, he demanded that his players tuck in their shirttails at all times.
“I called them by their first names,” Carter Sr. said. “And if I got mad at them, I called them by their first, middle and last names. I had to learn the names of 40 kids.”
When Therezie moved in with the Carters, he, was required to abide by the house rules, same as the family’s own two children. Church became mandatory on Sundays. If the boys missed church, they were required to watch one of the Sunday televangelists, such as Joel Osteen.
Therezie was required to perform routine chores at not only the Carter home, but also at his mother’s house in Little Haiti on the weekends, pedaling back and forth on a bicycle.
“They really helped discipline me and do the right things in life,” Therezie said.
All along, both played football and became standouts at Jackson.
Carter and Therezie were so prized that the top colleges came calling. Alabama wanted both. So did Florida State. It seemed destined that both boys would go to the same school.
“Those two boys are so close they took their high school graduation picture together,” Janet said. “He (Therezie) still has clothes in the drawers here.”
But when it came time to pick a college, Carter and Therezie went their separate ways. Carter chose FSU. Therezie wanted to play in the Southeastern Conference and decided on Auburn, much to the dismay of the Crimson Tide of Alabama.
On the day Therezie left for college, the Carters handed him a large Bible, wished him luck, and sent him on his way. Therezie said he keeps the bible on the dashboard of his car.
“It was a sad day,” Janet said.
No one dreamed they would one day be on opposing teams playing for the national championship. But it happened, as Florida State went undefeated to claim the No. 1 ranking and Auburn pulled off a wild upset of top-ranked Alabama before defeating Missouri in the SEC title game.
Both boys texted one another immediately.
“He said, ‘We’re going to Pasadena,’” recalled Therezie, who leads Auburn in interceptions. “I wrote back and said, ‘Yeah, we’re going, too.’”
Therezie led Auburn in interceptions this season with four. He nearly blocked the field goal try by Alabama that ended up being returned for Auburn’s game-winning touchdown over the defending national champs. The ball missed his arm by mere inches. Had Therezie blocked the kick and the game gone into overtime, the outcome could have turned out differently.
Therezie is a 5-9 junior who is dwarfed by Carter, a redshirt sophomore who is 6-4, 309 lbs. Both aspire to play in the NFL.
Teams allowed players to go home for the holidays for a few days. Janet Carter had their Christmas stockings hanging side by side underneath the mantel. Therezie, who got home a day before Carter, gathered a group of their friends and waited on a nearby street corner for Carter’s car to arrive.
As soon as they spotted Carter’s car, they erupted in cheers. And when Carter got out of his car, Therezie was the first person to embrace him.
While in town together, they tried to avoid any discussion of football.
“We haven’t spoken a word yet about what we’re going to do on the field,” said Therezie while sitting with the Carters in the family’s living room a few days before Christmas.
Still, they know what lies ahead.
“It’s for all the marbles,” said Carter, who has started one game this season for the Seminoles and played in most of the others. “It’s going to feel different. It’s going to feel weird. But it’s everything we ever dreamed of.”
Janet Carter plans on being in Pasadena to attend Monday’s championship game. She’ll be wearing a T-shirt that contains each player’s photo and the inscription: “I support … A House Divided.”
“I figured that was the best way to represent both of them,” she said.
There’s even a chance the two could find themselves facing off on a crucial play, with the national championship on the line. Don’t think they haven’t thought about that possibility.
“You never know,” said Ruben Carter Sr.
Said Therezie: “No matter what happens, at the end of the day, we’re still going to be family. We’re still going to be brothers.”