IOWA CITY, Iowa — James Butler had goals when he arrived at Iowa shortly before training camp in mid-July.
Butler graduated in three years at Nevada in order to play one season of Big Ten football. He transferred to Iowa as both a fan and for the style of play. Butler was competing alongside fellow senior running back Akrum Wadley in a tandem to rival many of the nation’s best.
Then in the Hawkeyes’ third game, Butler landed awkwardly on his right elbow. That’s when his season changed, as did his perspective.
“I thought it was broken,” Butler said. “It was just a dislocation. They put it back in on the field. I was more mad. I was just like, ‘I can’t believe I just broke my arm.’ I was just telling the trainer, ‘I can’t believe I broke my arm my senior year.’ ‘We’re going to put your arm in place, James.’ I’m like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ Then they’re like, ‘Your arm’s back in place. OK, let’s get off the field now.'”
At Nevada, Butler was one of the best running backs in the Mountain West Conference. He ran for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. He also caught 37 passes for 381 yards and 3 touchdowns. Even if healthy at Iowa, Butler wouldn’t have those statistics splitting time with Wadley. As an injured running back, there was no avenue for Butler to showcase his abilities.
Butler sat for four weeks before returning to practice. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz made Butler go through tackling drills before he was considered for game action. Before the injury, Butler played in only three games, so he could have qualified for a medical redshirt. The Friday before a home game against Minnesota, Butler and coach Kirk Ferentz met and discussed the situation. The options were clear: Play with an arm brace and lose the potential for a redshirt or sit and come back in 2018 as the lead back.
Without Wadley to share carries, Butler could have sat and waited for a year by himself in the spotlight. It for sure would have helped his draft stock. Instead, he chose this season and this team.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said. “I loved to have come back and play next year, but I worked so hard to get back and help this team win to finally be able to get back to 100 percent and play at a high level still, so I wanted to play.”
“He’s such a quality young man and he’s a guy that I think gives us some energy and his leadership; we don’t have a lot of seniors in that huddle,” Ferentz said. “So you get another senior with good eyes stepping in that huddle, that’s a really, really, positive thing for us.”
There are other reasons. A running back is built for only so many carries. Who’s to say he won’t get hurt next year? Additionally, Butler already has a bachelor’s degree and is taking graduate-level classes. Like most students — let alone athletes — he’s ready for the next phase of his life.
“A lot of people don’t know how hard it is to be a student-athlete, go to practice and class,” Butler said. “Me already having my degree, I felt like that was one of my big main goals and I was able to achieve that. Having to go to class again, that would be tough. That’s mentally draining.”
When he attended Nevada, Butler loaded up on extra classes. Instead of dropping courses like some of his Nevada teammates, Butler added them. He took a heavy amount of credits in his final spring and summer semesters to ensure he would graduate with a communications degree and a business minor. Eventually he’d like to become a sportscaster, which is why he’s wearing braces now.
With only the bowl remaining in his college career, Butler knows his statistics won’t make him the focus in the NFL draft next April. He’s rushed for 364 yards and 1 touchdown while catching 4 passes for 47 yards. Those numbers pale to what he put up at Nevada. But many of those yards were important. He rushed for 74 against Ohio State and 36 at Nebraska. Many of those were tough yards Iowa needed.
As a former 3-star recruit from Bloomingdale, Ill., Butler just wants a chance at the next level. That could come late in the draft or as an undrafted free agent. Either way, he’s excited about his future. He counts on his “underdog mindset” to help him persevere, and he has no regrets.
“I know stats are a big aspect of it, but just all I need is an opportunity,” Butler said. “I’ve always been that type of guy. I’ve never been the type to have anything handed to me. I’ve always had to work for everything I’ve received. So that’s what I plan on doing with the training prep and all that. All I need is an opportunity.”
The post Iowa’s James Butler unselfishly put 2017 squad above his self-interest appeared first on Land of 10.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.