The Butler Did It

Official scholarships come via mail, so why not send your acceptance of an offer by mail? In this day and age of instant contact via Blackberries and cell phones, Donald Butler decided that the good 'ol U.S. Postal Service could do the job just fine, thank you very much. Butler, a running back/linebacker from Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, California - a suburb of Sacramento - took this unique approach when announcing his verbal commitment to the University of Washington.

"It's different, you don't find that," Butler told Thursday night when asked about his approach. "Coach (Bob) Simmons told me in his 20+ years of coaching, no one had ever done that before. I think that definitely got me some extra points with the coaches, doing something a different way."

I'm sure Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham would consider it a rarity too, but nonetheless had to be pleased when opening Butler's missive this past Monday and reading the contents. But why did the Huskies offer Butler? Let's backtrack a few years.

"Actually, when Tyrone Willingham was at Notre Dame and even at Stanford, I followed him," said the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Butler. "And when he was Notre Dame he actually recruited me. When he moved to Washington, things fell into place. My interest in Washington rose, obviously."

And their interest was obviously piqued in Willingham's own curiosity, enough to get Butler up to their own summer camp for a thorough evaluation. Would Butler have still considered Notre Dame if Willingham was still in South Bend, Indiana? "They definitely would have been one of my top choices," he said. "I don't know if I would have gone there, it's kind of far away. But it would have been a consideration."

That consideration was moot, as Butler decided that staying relatively close to home was rule number-one. "I sat down with my family and looked at whether I wanted to stay on the west coast, midwest, east coast," said Butler. "We decided that I should stay on the west coast. From there I went down my criteria - the quality of the school, quality of the coaching staff, the philosophy of the football program. From there we selected four or five colleges that I had interest in and went from there.

"Washington and USC were my top ones. Then Stanford, California and Arizona."

So was Butler's thinking just pie-in-the-sky? Or did he have the talent and desire to turn the goal of playing for one of those Pac-10 schools into reality? All you have to do is go by what he did as a junior at Del Campo to find the answer to those questions.

"It was my first year playing running back," Butler said when asked about his 2004 season with the Cougars. "I thought I would give it a shot, try and get better every game. I ran for 1500 yards on 170 carries and had 22 touchdowns. I earned first-team all-league and league MVP."

Butler describes his early success running the ball in simple terms. "I guess hard work," he said when asked for his secret. "Each week I tried to get better and better and better. I push myself to new limits, new heights. Let's rush for 250 yards, let's get those four touchdowns. It went week by week and I gradually got better."

But there's a lot more to it. "I'm a Christian," adds Butler. "I think my relationship with God gives me that little extra push, that extra edge that most players out there on the field don't have. Besides that, I'm a pretty big guy at 6-1, 230. In terms of my physical attributes, I'm almost bigger than everyone else out there, bigger and faster. So God has blessed me."

Butler also claims a 4.5 40, 330-pound bench, 475-pound squat and 35-inch vertical jump as some of his physical attributes.

So now that it was established that Butler had Pac-10 physicality, it was up to him to be pro-active in making sure his top choices knew it. "A lot of the camps were at the same time, so I had to choose," said Butler. Washington was the one summer camp he attended. In talking with Butler, it doesn't sound like he regrets his decision.

"Wow, beautiful campus, beautiful setting. I had a blast," he said of his visit. "I wanted to get to know the coaching staff. I got to know Coach Willingham, Coach Baer, Coach Tormey and Coach Simmons. I liked them. They welcomed me with open arms. They showed me around campus and let me know how they did things at the University of Washington."

What happened at Washington's summer camp was a little unexpected. Butler plays both ways for Head Coach Mike Dimino at Del Campo, but he took a chance while in Seattle. He played outside linebacker for the Cougars as a junior, but never inside. "I played a position I had never played before," he said. "They called out middle 'backer and I stepped up. I had initially went up there to play running back. I thought we would get to play both, and we did - but I stepped up and played middle 'backer. And I guess I had a good camp. They liked what they saw.

"The first thing they told me was that they liked my presence in the huddle. I made my presence known. I got everyone together. Secondly they liked how I could audible out of coverages and make the right read. And my pursuit to the ball. They liked how I could get to the ball. And there are some things that I need to improve on, never having played the position before. But for the most part they said they liked what they saw."

Even though Butler had a ton of success on the offensive side of the ball, his passion for defense is clearly evident. "Of course when you ask anybody, they'll tell you they want to play whatever position will get them on the field, but I've always liked defense - getting that big hit, getting that tackle for loss, having that adrenaline rush," said Butler. "I've always had a little extra for defense."

Butler was offered a scholarship by Willingham on the last day of camp. "Coach Willingham brought me into his office after I had left campus and came back," said Butler. "He sat me down and went over the camp and what they look for in their athletes. He told me that I was what they were looking for in terms of being an outstanding student-athlete."

And his first reaction to getting that first coveted Pac-10 offer? "Of course I was excited, but I knew I had to go home and discuss things with my family," he said. "To be honest, I wasn't even expecting to be offered, but it worked out that way."

So when Butler returned home, things began to crystalize. "For the most part, we talked about Coach Willingham," said Butler of his conversation with his family about the scholarship offer. "He had recruited me at Notre Dame, so he jumped to number-one. From there, we just wanted to see how things would play out."

By the time Butler became comfortable with his decision, no other schools had stepped up to the plate with offers of their own. "I hadn't gotten a chance to get my highlight tape together and send it out," said Butler, who also noted that he received September calls from Washington, Cal, Arizona State, UNLV, Sacramento State, Oregon and Oregon State.

But Friday the 16th was when Butler decided his destiny - as well as his date with USPS. "That was the time for me, it felt right," he said of his decision. "What I did was sit down with my Mother and type out a letter, which was basically a response to their scholarship offer. I sent it and then that Monday I knew they would get it so I called Coach Willingham. He told me he got the letter and how excited he was about it."

But ultimately the question has to be asked again. Why a letter? The way Butler sees it, this is a business decision for him, and as such required an appropriate response. "I'm going to be spending the next four years of my life at this university, so it needs to be taken seriously," he said, matter-of-factly. And any ideas on a time-frame for an official visit? "I was planning on coming to a couple of games this year, but Coach Simmons wants me to take my visit in December. So that's when I do it," added Butler.

Now that his college future has been decided, Butler can now go back to the task at hand - leading Del Campo to a second-straight Capital Athletic League title. As such, expectations for the Cougars are sky high. "We're not doing as well as we would like," Butler said. "We're 0-2. So now we need to whack off eight straight (wins), pretty much. This is when I step in and tell everyone to pull it together and let's go. We can't have this."

He won't be mailing this one in.

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