Butler Makes it Look Easy

The Nittany Lion redshirt freshman has emerged as one of the Big Ten's top game-breakers. While there has not been much talk about it, the talented rookie ought to be in the mix for the league's postseason honors.

Deon Butler has made playing wide receiver in the Big Ten look easy. Averaging 19.8 yards per catch with eight touchdowns so far in 2005, Penn State's redshirt freshman has made the transition from defensive back to wide receiver look no more difficult than tying a pair of shoes.

With his guady yards-per-catch average (which is by far the best among the conference's top receivers) and his amazing touchdowns-to-receptions ratio (one score every four grabs), a strong case can be made that he deserves some form of All-Big Ten recognition.

Butler, a redshirt freshman from Woodbridge, Va., was moved to wideout at the start of spring practice. Not even a full year into playing his new position, he has more than exceeded expectations. His eight touchdowns this season set a Penn State freshmen record for a wide receiver, breaking the previous record of five, which Kenny Jackson established 25 years ago.

“I really didn't know what to expect coming into the season because I hadn't played offense at a Division-I level before,” Butler said. “I felt that once I got comfortable with it, the game kind of slowed down as far as my perspective, everything started making sense. I never would have thought I'd have a season like I'm having right now.”

It's pretty safe to say that nobody could have foreseen this. Butler has played an enormous role in the offense ever since his fellow freshman phenom, Derrick Williams, broke his arm against Michigan. Many people thought that losing Williams would slow down the Nittany Lion offense, but obviously that hasn't been the case.

He has had some help along the way. Quarterback Michael Robinson, who played a lot of wide receiver during his career, has aided the development of the team's young wide-receiving corps.

“In the very beginning, before we started practicing, some of us receivers would go out there at night and meet because we wanted to get a head start on things,” Butler said. “[Robinson] would actually go out there and teach us the routes. He would always be the first guy to run the route, show us how to do it, and then one of us would do it and he'd throw it to us.”

Not only did Robinson help tutor Butler and his colleagues in the spring, but he has also given them insight into how different Big Ten cornerbacks might play them.

“Before each game, he definitely always has something to say,” Butler said of the fifth-year senior Robinson. “Even if he doesn't have any experience before the game, he watches so much film that he gets a feel of basically how the corners are going to play.”

What's even more surprising about Butler's play is that he has done it while being undersized. Checking in at 5-foot-10 and weighing a 163 pounds, Butler is often at a disadvantage when he steps up to the line.

“There's gonna be guys that are big that can try to beat you down at the line of scrimmage,” Butler said. “I would like to think I just have to use my smarts. That's what I think my strongest asset to my game is.

“It definitely helps when I'm working against a secondary like we have in practice every day,” he added. “You'll have a big game one week, and they'll quickly bring you back down to reality the next day in practice. They beat you up and kind of flex their power and let you know why they're one of the top defenses.”

Butler knows that all of his success won't mean a thing if his team doesn't come away with a win Saturday at Michigan State, where a victory would give Penn State a share of its first Big Ten title since 1994. In their last visit to East Lansing, the Nittany Lions were embarrassed 41-10 in 2003.

“It would definitely be a big boost,” Butler said of the potential Big Ten crown. “I think for the younger guys it would set the tone for us, first year coming in and winning the Big Ten. It'll set the tone for the rest of our time here.”

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