Prime Time With Receiver Deon Butler

People close to the Penn State football program have been talking up redshirt freshman receiver Deon Butler since the spring. And it seems every time head coach Joe Paterno is asked about heavily hyped rookie wideouts Justin King and Derrick Williams, he goes out of his way to make sure he mentions Butler, too.

So what's the story with Deon Butler, who walked on to the Penn State program after a strong senior season (2003) at C.D. Hylton High in Woodbridge, Va.? That's what we wanted to know, so we asked FOS staffer Scott Cole to talk to Butler at the Nittany Lions' Media Day event over the weekend.

Here is how the conversation went:

FOS: What were your feelings after Signing Day came and went two years ago and there wasn't a scholarship for you somewhere? Were you disappointed or did you just put it behind you?

Butler: Of course I was disappointed in the beginning, but I had always understood the recruiting process and how late I came onto the recruiting radar. I knew pretty much all the big-time programs had who they wanted. They had been tracking them since their junior year.

I still had some scholarship offers left before I came here, but it's just the fact that I felt so comfortable when I was here on my visit that I could take a big risk and I chose to come here. I was pretty confident. They were close to offering me a scholarship. It came down to one of the last scholarships between me and another kid, and it just didn't go my way, but I felt confident and Coach [Larry] Johnson made me feel confident that if I played anything like I did in my senior year then I would be earning a scholarship quickly.

FOS: You had an opportunity to go to both Virginia and Virginia Tech as a walk-on. Why didn't you choose one of the in-state schools?

Butler: They recruited me pretty hard early on and stayed on me, but I really didn't want to stay in-state. I told those guys that, but the schools that were still on me the hardest when I committed here were Wake Forest, Akron and a lot of Division I-AA schools.

FOS: You came here last year and played cornerback on the scout team during your redshirt year?

Butler: I played corner behind A.Z., and I learned a lot of things from him and was doing pretty good at corner, but then things changed up when we needed wideouts, cleaned out the cabinet pretty much at wideout. They were looking for speed and athletics, so basically that opened that door up. Coach Jay [Paterno] one day just came up to me and told me “Try wideout. We know you played wideout and had a good season your senior year, so we're going to try you at wideout and see how that goes.”

FOS: Has your experience at cornerback helped you as a wide receiver because you know what defensive backs are going to try to do to you?

Butler: It helps out a lot because I know their tendencies from practicing with them and learning from them and then I see the logic behind the defenses. I know what they're trying to do to me, so now learning from the offensive side, it makes it a little bit easier to adjust — this is what I'm trying to do to him and this is the weaknesses in their zone. Like you said, from defense I knew the weaknesses in the zone, but now on the offensive side, it's just basically transferring that over. I just basically learned how to attack their weaknesses.

FOS: Was there any hesitation on your part when Jay Paterno asked you to move over to offense or did you look at it as the best opportunity for you to get on the field?

Butler: It was the best opportunity for me and the best opportunity for the team. Coach had to ask me. He said if I didn't want to [make the move], I didn't have to. I told him whatever's best for the team. Also, it was the best opportunity for me with us bringing in a whole bunch of new wideouts and young receivers.

FOS: You've kind of had to learn the wide receiver position at the college level since you didn't play it much in high school. Has that been difficult to transition?

Butler: It's a lot of the little things that coming back to the ball that's different. Basically some of the times when you're not the read, you still have to run your route hard because you're gonna kind of be a decoy for the defense.

If you don't run your route hard, then they can slack off and maybe jump into another passing lane and even though you weren't the read, you can mess up the pass. Just little things like that.

In high school, I was just so raw with my speed. I didn't really come back to the ball. I caught a lot with my pads instead of using my hands. It's just a lot of the little things that are the difference on the college level.

FOS: You've gone through the spring now. Do you feel comfortable at wide receiver? Do you feel like you've found a home?

Butler: Yes, I feel real comfortable here at wide receiver. A lot of the other guys here, we're all young. We're all learning on the move. It's all like a big learning experience for everybody. Everybody talks to each other. Everybody critiques each other. It's a big family atmosphere. Almost everybody's new to it. We don't have much game experience.

It's not like anybody's like “I don't have to listen to you because I've been in the game and I know what it's like.” We have a couple of guys that have played, but haven't had too much game experience.

FOS: It's only been 7-on-7 so far in practice, but do you feel like you've made a leap since the spring? You're better now than you were then?

Butler: Definitely. I feel a lot stronger. In the weight room, I put on some pounds. I can definitely tell that. We've been working a lot on coming off the jam. Guys like Anwar and Alan and Tony Davis, those are pretty big corners. They are going to work us off the jam. Alan and Anwar are fifth-year seniors. They're guys that know what they're doing. They know the game. Working against them everyday is only helping us get better.

FOS: What about your timing with Michael Robinson and Anthony Morelli?

Butler: Yeah, that's definitely showed in the first couple of practices too. We've been more precise I think than we were last year when I was at DB. I can see it. We've been hitting a lot more passes, moving the ball on the first team defense. They still have their times when they're killing us, but we're hanging in there and doing pretty good. We're moving on up.

Neil Rudel, Altoona Mirror: What's your impression of the freshmen, Derrick and Justin?

Butler: All of the freshmen, including them and some other guys like Jordan [Norwood], everybody's come in quick to learn. Everybody's willing to learn, which I think is the best thing. Like I said earlier, nobody wants to not listen to anybody else. We're all learning.

Derrick and Justin bring tremendous speed, and I think Jordan's one of the quickest guys on the team. He can stop and cut on a dime. So, I like that impression where we have different guys. Then we have a guy like Mark Rubin, a bigger guy who's a possession receiver, and Terrell Golden. I like the camaraderie we have at wide receiver.

FOS: What are your expectations for yourself going into the season? Do you have any personal goals or are you just going to see what you can do once you get on the field?

Butler: I take it like that. After a couple of games, I might set some personal goals, but first and foremost, I just want to win. If winning means I'm catching most of the passes, that's how it is. If it means I'm catching one pass and everybody else is blowing up, I really don't care how it is. It's not too much to me to be in the spotlight. I just want to win and get to some bowl games.

FOS: It seems like you have an entirely different look for defenses because of the speed that you have now that wasn't there last year. Is there a lot of excitement in this offense?

Butler: Yeah, I think that's definitely a difference in why we've been moving the ball on the first-team defense. I think last year, the corners didn't really respect the wide receivers' speed. This year, when we catch them sleeping, it's a legit four guys that can run past corners easily, so they have to respect our deep speed. They're backing up, so we can hit a lot of little underneath routes on them. Once we catch that, they're so far away, we can put on a little move. That's basically our wide receivers' type of game. Get the ball and get the movement.


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