Notre Dame football recruiting: Butler brothers share special bond
Devin Butler has the date memorized: October 13, 2008.
Columbus Day meant no school for the 13-year-old eighth-grader. So when his father woke him early that Monday morning, the future Notre Dame cornerback was confused.
“Something happened to Darius that happens every day in D.C.,” Butler recalls his father saying.
His brother, Darius, was an 18-year-old freshman at nearby Howard University. Immediately, Devin assumed his brother had gotten himself in some sort of trouble.
But his father went on to tell him that Darius had been shot five times – three in his back, one in his leg and one in his arm. He survived the shooting, but the Butler family would soon learn he would be paralyzed from the waist down.
“It shook my foundation being that young and just having something tragic like that happen,” Devin said in a recent interview.
The roles of older brother and younger brother were then blurred, with Darius needing to rely on Devin as he adjusted to a new life in a wheelchair. It’s been hard to separate the two since.
‘Definitely the talented son’
Devin insists Darius was the more gifted child
He recites his older brother’s accomplishments without hesitation.
Darius never played football seriously but was clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at age 15. He taught himself to play the piano by ear. He played two years of high school basketball.
“He was really the gifted one athletically,” Devin said. “He was definitely the talented son.”
Darius concedes that he may have inherited more athleticism, but Devin, at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, received the size in the family.
“He had the size, but I got the natural speed and strength,” Darius said. “I was always one of the fastest kids in my class. I was more of an athletic person. But he has the size. He got it. He has the long arms and the long legs. I didn't get that. His hands are bigger than mine and all that."
Darius had even considered trying out for the football team at Howard in the spring of his freshman year.
“I felt like I was good enough to try out,” Darius said. “If I put on the size, I felt I was a good enough natural athlete to go out there and do something.”
Those plans were wiped away on that October night in 2008. Darius describes the shooting as a random act of violence.
He had parted ways with his friends after a house party and was gunned down on the street while heading back to his dorm. The gunman said no words, fired seven shots, and ran away.
The shooter was never apprehended.
Darius awoke the next night and started to learn his prognosis. He was bedridden for two weeks before being moved to a rehabilitation hospital. Two months after the accident he returned home to live with his parents and Devin.
“The roles kind of switched a little bit. He's kinda like my big, little brother now,” Darius said. “Before, I was who he came to when he needed something he couldn't get to or something was too hard for him. Now I can run to him because he's older now and he understands I can't do everything. He's always there to help me.”
Darius recently moved out of his parents’ home to live with his girlfriend and the daughter they had together. The daughter was conceived two months before Darius was shot.
“That's one of the reasons that I live today,” Darius said of his daughter. “I feel like that's my whole purpose of living. That's why God kept me alive so that I can make sure that she's straight and be the great father that I know I can be. It really makes me happy being a dad.
It's one of my prides in life.”
‘My brother’s keeper’
Look close enough at Devin’s highlight videos and you can spot Darius stationed on the Gonzaga High School sideline in his wheelchair. Watching Devin grow into a Division I prospect became a staple of his life.
Darius missed just one of Devin's games in his varsity career at Gonzaga High. He was in the hospital for that one.
“It's very important to me. It's almost a religious thing. I have to see it,” Darius said. “It’s something I want to see too, but I feel like he needs that support from me. I hear about how highly he speaks of me to his coaches and to anybody he really talks to about me. I know how much it means to him to have me in the stands. He can depend on me because I can depend on him when I need him. I try to be there when he needs me."
Pushing Devin to his best became a part of Darius’ fulfillment in life.
“On days when I don't feel like getting up to go train, he'll be the first one to call my phone,” Devin said. “ ‘Hey, man. You need to go do this. What you think them boys down in Texas or down in Alabama are doing? You think they're sleeping in today?' He's really my biggest fan.”
“He's someone I really looked up to. He's someone I can really confide in and talk to,” Devin said. “I know he'll always give me straight answers. He's just a helping hand.”
The two brothers will be separated by distance when Devin leaves for Notre Dame in June, but they’ve been working on an idea to keep them connected — by ink.
Both are planning to get tattoos with the main art being the words “my brother’s keeper.”
And Darius still plans on being at many of Devin’s games. He’s been motivated to soon enroll in driving lessons that will teach him how to use hand controls and allow him to be a licensed driver. He wants to have as many travel options to get from Washington, D.C. to South Bend as possible.
“Since he committed I've been thinking about being at every game I can be at,” Darius said. “If I can be there, I'm going to be there. Plain and simple. If I have to drive, catch a ride, if I have to buy a plane ticket, catch the train, if I can make it, I'm going to do it.”
Darius continues to live a life that’s been rerouted since 2008. He went back to school for a semester after his accident, but a daughter, who will be four years old in May, and life in a wheelchair filled his plate. He’s currently looking for a job, with eyes on a position at a local hospital working registration for an emergency room.
“Life is pretty — I wouldn't say dull, because I still get out every day. I still do things,” Darius said. “Winter time is my dullest time of the year. I really don’t feel like going anywhere because I don't feel like going out and pushing myself. Summertime to spring, I'm outside every day all day. I'm a pretty active person. I don't really sit around.”
A bright spot in a dreary winter will come on Wednesday when Devin signs his National Letter of Intent and ships it to Notre Dame, sealing Devin’s future as a college football player. "I'm just proud of him,” Darius said. “We used to talk about this stuff back when we were eight and 13, seven and 12. Back then we were talking about it for me, and now it's his turn.
I'm proud of him and I couldn't be happier.”
Staff writer Tyler James: