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St. Ed’s tennis star No. 1 in Florida
BY RON HOLUB - COLUMNIST (Week of February 12, 2009)

It is a rite of passage most fathers try to stave off as long as possible. But Tom Butz realized that his son Andrew, by the age of 12, had a gift that needed more than the expertise he could offer. Andrew clearly had the makings of a very good tennis player.

The United States Tennis Association now ranks the 6-foot-4 teenager as the top boys 16 age division tennis player in the state of Florida, thanks in large part to father Tom, who made Andrew was given the coaching and tools he needed.

And Andrew has achieved this, unlike other tennis prodigies who are shipped off at an early age to international tennis academies, while enjoying a grounded home life at the Moorings with parents Tom and mother Pam, sister Christiana, and a couple of little dogs filled with big energy.The St. Ed’s junior has long since surpassed those who first nurtured his tennis talent -- dad and coach Alain Mignolet of the Twin Oaks Tennis Club – and is now working with Dave Boddy, instructor at the Moorings, to see just how far he might travel in the world of competitive tennis.

The state championship? Perhaps this year. Big-time college tennis? Certainly. Then beyond that?

“His progress should accelerate in college and after that the sky’s the limit,” says Mignolet. “There is no reason why he shouldn’t be in the top 100 in the world in five or six years. He’s a great kid, very polite, well mannered, and he’s got a great family too. He’s an asset to Vero Beach tennis. I’m happy for him and for the family.”

Andrew Butz tennis career began not long after first picking up a racket at about age 5. Father Tom, a self-professed “sports junkie,” was looking for an activity that the family could enjoy together. Tennis fit the bill perfectly.

Dad was the first person to notice characteristics that would serve as building blocks for Andrew’s future on the tennis court.

“He’s had incredible hand-eye coordination since he was a very small kid,” Tom said. “Another attribute that is really difficult to teach is the ability to generate racket head speed. And size -- he was always bigger than most of the kids in his age group, wherever he played.”

Former coach Mignolet says Tom deserves a great deal of credit for his role in Andrew’s development in those early years.

“His father put in a huge amount of time and nobody ever recognizes that. I gave hundreds of lessons and clinics to Andrew over the years, but his father probably spent two thousand hours on the court working with his son. “Different pros have worked with Andrew, but his father has put in more time than anybody else – with a great deal of suffering throughout,” Alain said with a laugh. The suffering for Tom and Alain came to a head five years ago. ”At about age 12, Alain and I really couldn’t do much with Andrew,” Tom says. “My arm would fall off when I would hit with him and he was beating me every time out.”

So Tom and Alain stepped aside from active training, and let Andrew move on to an instructor, Dave Boddy, who was more of an equal on the court. Tom began to deal solely in background matters associated with travel, equipment readiness and finances, and along with Andrew’s mother, Pam, settled into the not always serene role of spectators.

Tom Butz gives Dave Boddy – “a young guy (33) who hits a nice ball” – a great deal of credit for son Andrew’s development.

Generally, Boddy is on the court with Andrew twice per week for a total of about three to four hours.

“This year has seen a little more off-the-court work with his personal trainer,” Boddy said. “He’s putting on a little more meat. He’s a big guy. That’s been one of his advantages. He’s been able to muscle the ball around the court.

“He’s got a big, powerful serve. He’s able to dominate the point from his serve and if that doesn’t work he can finish it off with his forehand. He’s a lot quicker around the court than people might think from judging his (6-foot, 4-inch) size. He is very strong mentally and tactically. He can figure somebody out pretty early.”

“The type of game that Andrew is moving toward is more of a hardcourt style,” Mignolet noted. “He hits the ball very hard and doesn’t necessarily like long points. The average point with Andrew is more like three hits. His serve is enormous. This style of play suits him well in both singles and doubles. He prefers to get to the net and put the point away quickly.”

Boddy emphasizes perspective when considering Andrew’s future. He points out his student is just 16 years old and learning to find a balance in life juggling training schedules, tournament travel, a social life, school work, and just plain downtime.

“I try to be a little bit of a role model as well as a coach,” Boddy said when talking about his interaction with Andrew on and off the court. “I try to give him a view that he’s got a great opportunity in life. He’s also got an exceptional opportunity to play bigtime tennis in college.

“I’m very fortunate to be working with the No. 1 kid in Florida right now. People don’t realize what it takes to get there. The sky’s the limit.”

Andrew Butz does not dwell on what he has accomplished, but where he needs to go to next.

“I’m already working on my 18s ranking,” he said. A player can “play up” to the next age division. Butz is already ranked 11th in the state in boys 18s, a category that he will automatically advance to under USTA guidelines on his 17th birthday in April.

In the near term, Butz will play singles and doubles tennis for St. Edwards, where a state championship this year is a definite possibility. Practice began at the Moorings last week in preparation for a season opening match against Martin County High School on Feb. 17 at the Boulevard Tennis Club.

Most of the school matches take place on weekdays, leaving the weekends open for USTA tournaments, enhanced training opportunities, a local exhibition, or just slugging it out with friends or teammates in informal practice sessions.

Christopher Thoft-Brown is in his third year as head coach of the St. Ed’s varsity boys’ tennis team, and is not shy when talking about the outlook for this season.

“Our goal is to win the state championship this year,” he said. ”I do think that we’ve got a good shot. We’ve got a veteran team coming back. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and we’re hoping to continue that this year.”

The team practices and plays home matches on Har-Tru, but regularly shifts over to hard courts when on the road. The coach does not believe his players have any trouble performing on either surface.

The squad will be strong from top to bottom, but of course Andrew will be out in front as No. 1 in both singles and doubles. Despite his top status, Andrew says some very good players will join him on the court to represent St. Ed’s this spring. Fellow junior Conner Pickering is ranked 64th on the boys 16s list. Senior Ryan Marcil is 81st on the boys 18s list.

“Andrew is a great teammate in a sport that caters to individuals,” Thoft- Brown said. “I don’t know that it always helps his game to come to practice where he’s always the best player. He could be out playing stronger competition trying to improve, but he comes and he’s just one of the guys.

“It’s good to know that he’s in the No. 1 spot, because it gives the team a lot of confidence. I love having him on the team. He deserves everything he gets because he works hard.”

One factor separates Andrew from many other highly regarded tennis players in this country and around the world.

“He decided to stay at home instead of going to an academy. To some extent this holds him back,” says former coach Mignolet.

But Andrew’s current coach, Dave Boddy, says he was watched him grow to become not just a great tennis player but “an accomplished young man.

“He’s very talented and he’s been able to keep up with kids who attend academies and practice four to five hours a day,” Boddy said.

Andrew has been on a good roll lately, and the highpoint of his young tennis career occurred at the USTA Winter National Championships in Scottsdale, AZ. over the Christmas holidays.

“I was in Arizona for about two weeks,” Andrew said. “My first tournament was a national championship event -- the Winter Super Nationals -- and I placed third there in singles and in the quarterfinals in doubles. Then I traveled to Tucson and finished in the quarterfinals in singles and doubles at the Copper Bowl.”

Andrew is known for his reserved nature, but others noted that he was unseeded going into the boys 16s event at the Winter Super Nationals – competing against 128 of the best tennis players in the country – and advanced to the semifinals where he was defeated by the second seed. He won the consolation bronze by beating the third seed in the field.

From shelves loaded with trophies by the dozen, Tom Butz singled out the one that Andrew received for his third place finish at Scottsdale.

The college selection process will unfold in earnest next summer. As of this moment, a lot interest is being shown by some prestigious schools – Ohio State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt and UCLA to name a few. The mailbox is stuffed, but there has been no contact thus far from the University of Florida -- Tom’s alma mater and Andrew’s top choice.

“We’re impressed when these letters come, but he really doesn’t know,” Pam said. “There are many variables. The coaches can invite him for official visits to take place after his junior year. He can make five official visits per NCAA rules and has already accepted invitations to visit Cornell and Michigan.

“He has to meet the coaches and the other players as well as see the campus and tennis facilities. The first day to sign a national letter of intent is in November. It’s a big decision.”

If you are interested in watching Andrew Butz, Ryan Marcil and the rest of the St. Ed’s players chase a possible state title, the team schedule is listed at