If you’re Dre Butler’s doctor and you happen to be reading this story, don’t be upset with what you’re about to read.
Butler, your former patient, disobeyed doctor’s orders.
He meant no malice behind it. He wasn’t being purposefully contrary, and it wasn’t that he didn’t respect your expertise. He just had to get well. Not just physically, but mentally, and even more so, emotionally.
Butler’s need for a doctor in the first place came when he broke his tibia playing basketball for Newton as a sophomore. He missed his entire junior season both on the court and on the football field. And the 6-foot-5, 226 pound defensive end isn’t afraid to acknowledge that the injury quickly started messing with his head.
“Honestly, when I broke my tibia, it caused me a lot of doubts,” Butler said. “I stopped playing basketball. I’d already stopped playing football. Things just got really bad. It was a depressing moment for me.”
So much so that the two-sport Newton athlete had stopped eating as much and began noticeably losing weight. He was largely immobile for about three months after his surgery, and as far as he was concerned, there was only one thing that could help get him back to feeling like himself again.
“I had to start walking,” Butler said. “What the doctors don’t know is that I started walking early. I started hopping around earlier than they told me to. I wasn’t supposed to, but I did it anyway. And when I started walking again, my motivation came back and every thing just started to come back on me.”
Everything, including his desire to play football again. That desire has played out royally as Butler has starred on a talent-laden Newton defense, registering five quarterback sacks and several other tackles for loss during his first two games.
And the senior is rapidly picking up college attention, as well. He was on hand, flexing in a Georgia State uniform while on a visit to the Panthers home opener Thursday night against Tennessee State in their new football digs.
Newton head football coach, Terrance Banks, believes Butler should start getting used to walking around in a college football jersey on a regular basis.
“He’s most definitely got the ability to play at the next level,” Banks said. “He’s not even close to reaching a ceiling. There’s still a lot he doesn’t understand yet. He’s learning, but not even close to his potential. He might start to understand more, hopefully if we’re playing games 13, 14 and 15 (in the state playoffs). But I don’t think we’ll come close to seeing the best of what he can do this year.”
Butler acknowledges that it’s hard for him to choose a favorite between the hardwood and the gridiron. He likes basketball because of the individual competitiveness. But he also enjoys the team camaraderie in football — something he says you can’t find in any other sport.
“Football is a really the ultimate team thing,” he said. “It’s you going out there with your brothers and showing that your team is better than the other team.”
When it comes to his collegiate future though, his desires and aspirations become a little more clear.
“Yes, I would like to play in college,” Butler said. “It really doesn’t matter which sport. But I can say that if I’m going to college, I’d probably prefer to play football.”
Butler plays like he’s got gridiron fire in his belly once again. He credits his quick resurgence to coaches like Josh Skelton and coaches Fortson and Byrd. But he also credits another one of his teammates for helping him round out his technique in his final high school season.
“Darnell (Jefferies) has really been supportive,” Butler said of the four-star defensive end prospect and Clemson commit. “Him, along with all the coaches, it’s been really big support, man. It’s been a blessing to even play for them and along side Darnell. He’s been helping me with my stances, the routes, everything. He’s taught me a lot.”
One thing that can’t be taught is Butler’s size — despite being 6-foot-5 he said he quit football after eighth grade because he thought he wouldn’t grow big enough to play. But Banks also points out Butler’s relentless motor on the field as something that can only come naturally.
“The biggest thing, really, is his aggression,” Banks said. “His size is unteachable. That’s been there, and once people saw it, I knew they’d be intrigued. But how physical and aggressive and ill intended he’s been on the field, you just can’t teach that. He’s been going to work. He’s been bringing the hammer.”
That last statement Banks meant literally. The phrase, “bringing the hammer” has been one of Banks’ rallying cries for this year’s team. It’s a statement meant to reinforce the kind of unmatched physicality he wants Newton to display each game.
And it’s illustrated by a pregame ritual where Banks will give a large, Newton-blue hammer to one of his players to run with as the team breaks the banner, making its entrance onto the field.
“I can’t really tell you how these guys go about getting it,” Banks said. “I give it to one player and then I guess they go into the locker room and decides who’s going to run out with it.”
For the Eastside game, it was Butler carrying the big, blue hammer. It was a sign of his personal buy-in to the mission of winning a region title and delivering ample punishment to any opponent that stands in the team’s way.
Butler says that, personal goals aside, he only wants his accomplishments to become part of the team’s accomplishments.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to get stronger, faster and gain more knowledge for the team,” he said. “I really want to get better so it can help us get better and come together even more than we are now. If we get our minds together as one, we’ll be way better than we are right now.”