Crezdon Butler's love affair with contact began when he played linebacker in youth league.
And to this day, nothing delights Asheville High School's star cornerback more than making a hit that everyone will be talking about the next morning over breakfast.
"I guess that's one thing that's never changed about me," Butler said. "I've always been someone who loves to play physical."
Coaches at Asheville asked that and more out of the multi-talented Clemson recruit during his four-year varsity career. At various points, Butler played cornerback, quarterback, tailback and returned kicks. In short, he hardly ever came out of games.
"Tommy Bowden called a lot since Crezdon committed over the summer to check up on him," Cougars coach Danny Wilkins said. "I know (Bowden) thinks he's getting a good one. I just don't know that he really knows how good a player he's getting. I've been coaching 27 years, and I don't think I'll ever be blessed enough to have another Crezdon Butler."
Butler recently finished second to Thomasville running back Quan Warley in voting for the Associated Press Player of the Year award in North Carolina, but it's hard to imagine that any individual in the Tar Heel state contributed more to his team.
With only two returning starters on offense and five on defense for Asheville, Butler directed the undefeated Cougars (15-0) to a school record for victories this fall and their first state football championship in 83 years.
Individually, Butler finished his career with 5,011 rushing yards, nearly 1,000 more yards than another Asheville alum – the legendary Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice.
"I felt like I grew up a lot this year as a leader," Butler said. "I knew we had to have a leader, and I wanted to be one of those guys the team could count on. I don't know if anything can top this; I've really enjoyed all the people who keep coming up and congratulating me on each accomplishment."
Despite splitting carries with North Carolina recruit Johnny White, Butler ran for 1,374 yards and 16 touchdowns in addition to passing for 749 yards and four touchdowns. His 70-yard pass to sophomore Rahkeem Morgan proved to be the winning touchdown in Asheville's 13-10 victory over Western Alamance in the Class 3-A state championship game on Dec. 10 in Durham.
With 2:44 remaining and Western Alamance in the midst of its final possession at midfield, Butler drifted deep into Asheville territory and hauled in his seventh interception of the season, an acrobatic, one-handed pick that clinched the win at Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium.
Much to their chagrin, Wilkins and his assistant coaches watched Butler practice making one-handed catches everyday after school. They continually implored Butler to be more conventional and use both hands, but no one was complaining when he sprang several feet in the air to snag this ball.
A local newspaper splashed a large photograph of the interception on its front page the following day, inspiring one of Butler's friends to make a t-shirt for him depicting the play.
"I was actually trying to bat the ball down," Butler said. "But I was able to bring it in, and I'm just thankful for that. I don't think I'll ever forget that one."
Butler gave a verbal commitment to Clemson in August, choosing the Tigers over a long list of competing schools that included Arkansas, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
Tennessee and Virginia Tech, in particular, placed calls to Asheville with hopes of luring Butler away from the Tigers before national-signing day, but Clemson didn't have much to worry about.
Butler said he essentially made the decision to join the Tigers on the spot when his mother, NaTosha Crooks, began softly crying outside Memorial Stadium during a recruiting visit.
"I just knew," Crooks said of her reaction. "Crezdon fits right into that setting and our entire family is just so proud of him. He's not perfect, but he works hard and makes good decisions. He'll fit right in at Clemson, and I could sense that."
Over the holidays, Butler said he watched the Tigers beat Colorado 19-10 in the Champs Sports Bowl by himself and came away from that night feeling even more confident about the direction in which the program is headed.
"I think people have underestimated Clemson for awhile now and seen them as a little bit of a pushover," Butler said. "I liked to see them come out with the bowl victory, and I hope it helps a lot with recruiting. That game and the Florida State game (a 35-14 win by the Tigers on Nov. 12) tell me that I made a good decision."
Butler's future plans include running track in the spring – last year he manned a leg on the Cougars' state championship 400-meter relay team – before studying engineering at Clemson after graduation in May.
Highly-acclaimed recruits are unknown commodities to most college football fans, but there is no doubt among those in western North Carolina that Butler will strengthen the Tigers' secondary as soon as he steps on campus.
"I really do believe you're going to see Crezdon make an impact immediately," Wilkins said. "He's the kind who never asked what his stats were and accepted each award without ever letting it go to his head. He's a winner in every sense, and it'll be a treat to follow him at Clemson."