UGA's Drew Butler: From question mark to unanimous All-American

"It's crazy," Georgia's punter said. "It really is crazy."

By the time college football's awards presentations were done, Butler had made all five of the NCAA-recognized All-America teams, becoming the Bulldogs' first unanimous All-American since Champ Bailey in 1998, and had won the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter.

The crazy part is, for all of the year-round attention focused on the Dogs, no one saw this coming.

Butler had punted only three times for Georgia in games before this season, and by all accounts he had not overly impressed coaches in his first two years in the program.

This season began with Georgia's punting position seen, at best, as a question mark.

The question mark produced one of the most decorated individual seasons in Bulldogs history.

Crazy.

"I wouldn't say it exactly blows my mind, but it is really special," Butler said. "It just goes to show that hard work pays off. I knew I had the ability to be a starter here, and I knew if I used my ability consistently I could kick with the best of them."

Of all the accolades, perhaps the one that excited Butler the most, was his berth on the 120th annual Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America Team.

That's because members of the 1984 Camp All-America team -- including Kevin Butler, the former Georgia placekicker and Drew's father -- already had been invited to Yale University for next month's banquet, which will honor the 25th-anniversary team as well as this year's team.

"Now we get to go together," Drew Butler said.

His year just keeps getting better.

He also made the All-America teams chosen by the Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association and The Sporting News.

He leads the nation with an average of 48.8 yards on 50 punts, including 24 of 50-plus yards and 17 placed inside the 20-yard line. With just the Independence Bowl against Texas A&M remaining, he appears certain to set a new UGA single-season record for punting average. He also leads the nation in net punting (punts minus returns/touchbacks).

None of this would be happening if Butler, whose early sports of choice were soccer and golf, hadn't felt a sense of duty to try out for the football team at Gwinnett County's Peachtree Ridge High School in 10th grade.

"We were entering our second year as a high school, and we didn't really have a kicker," he said. "We lost a few games the first year because we couldn’t even make an extra point. I knew I could kick an extra point."

So he told his parents at the dinner table one night that he wanted to try football.

"My dad probably thought, ‘Finally, it's about time,'" Butler said.

For three years at Peachtree Ridge, Butler was placekicker and punter. By his senior year, he realized punting was his niche and his future, albeit a divergence from the footsteps of his father, the College Hall of Fame placekicker.

He was red-shirted his first season at Georgia and still stuck behind No. 1 punter Brian Mimbs his second. Coaches said Butler performed inconsistently in practice, creating concern about how he'd fare as Mimbs' successor this season.

"I just really got myself focused this year," Butler said. "The [previous] two summers, I knew I wasn't going to be the starter; I knew [Mimbs] had the job. But I knew this was my year, knew this was an opportunity I had to seize. I wasn't going to let it slip away... I worked hard on my technique, worked hard on my drop -- just refined my game in any and every way I could."

Teammates say they often would see Butler on an otherwise empty practice field last summer.

"You'd come to [the] Butts-Mehre [building] on your day off, and you'd see Drew working on his drills on his own," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "He'd be out there by himself, kicking I-don't-know-how-many balls.

"Now he has something to show for all of his hard work."

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