Notre Dame football: Frosh Butler climbed depth chart in a hurry

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - New guy on an island.

No big deal.

That’s why Devin Butler signed up to play football at Notre Dame.

No room for a crisis of confidence.

Conventional wisdom keeps most freshmen from making a significant impact within an established defense. Quality athletes, though, are exceptions.

Butler, a 6-foot-1, 181-pound defensive back from Washington, D.C., was too good for Irish coaches to allow to languish in a redshirt year or to be relegated to special-teams duty.

Butler had to play.

Besides special-teams play, Butler has worked himself into the Irish two-deep at cornerback behind KeiVarae Russell, leap-frogging more than a few veteran players. He’s also part of the specialty packages when more defensive backs are used in passing situations.

Appearing in five games, he has just two tackles and is still waiting for his first broken-up pass and interception.

“I just wanted to take advantage of any opportunity the coaches gave me,” Butler said. “I wanted to prove myself with every rep that I got during camp. Then I tried to soak everything up from Bennett (Jackson), KeiVarae and Lo (Wood).”

Though he hasn’t truly been tested yet, that day is coming. Maybe soon. Butler isn’t the least bit apprehensive about the confidence it takes to take on a great receiver and make sure he doesn’t get the ball.

“(Confidence) comes from within, and it comes from the coaches saying they believe in you,” Butler said. “You get the support from your teammates and the coaches, knowing that they feel comfortable with you on the field. That does a lot to help you grow as a player.”

In fact, that internal confidence may be challenged Saturday when the Irish welcome Southern Cal to town. Trojan receiver Marquise Lee is considered among the best in the country. Freshman Nelson Agholor proved he can be a big-time threat with a big day (7 catches, 161 yards, 1 TD) against Arizona last week.

“A lot of (the growing) has to do with the mental part,” Butler said of the development process. “Slowing the game down in my head; being confident in my ability and confident that the coaches are putting me in the right position. Trusting the scheme of the defense is so important.”

It didn’t take long for Butler to realize he wasn’t in high school anymore. It was early August when the point was driven home.

“The first practice (at Notre Dame) was definitely an eye-opener,” Butler said. “I was going against guys I had watched on TV — TJ (Jones) and DaVaris (Daniels), Chris Brown, and all those great receivers. They let you know it’s a step up (from high school).

“They know so much of the game. They’re all students of the game and they attack what you need to work on. That’s the best thing we have as a team. We all push each other to be better.”

Butler has a rock-solid support system to get through any of his tough times. He continues to lean heavily on his older brother Darius, who was paralyzed in a shooting in Washington five years ago.

“My brother, grandparents, sister, a couple of uncles, and some cousins were (at the Arizona State game),” Butler said. “My dad’s family is from Dallas. It was like a family reunion. It was great, really emotional after the game.

“(My brother is) someone who is my biggest supporter. He’s always telling me how proud he is of me. He always says that, even when nobody else believes in me, he believes in me.

“(Not being with him regularly) was a tough adjustment in the summer. I talk to him every day. He’s been up here for every game but Purdue. I see him pretty much every weekend. Every time, it’s like a brand new feeling, really.

“He tells me how he misses his little brother. He moved out (of their parents’ home) before I left (for Notre Dame), so I was always spending a lot of time at his new apartment. It was really like cutting the cord.”

Butler has embraced the pressure regularly heaped on a corner, and has learned the coping mechanisms necessary to survive.

“You have to have a short-term memory,” he said. “You have to take advantage of every opportunity you get. You have to be better with every play. You have to always focus on the next play.”

Survival on an island, is all about confidence.

Cornerback Devin Butler is another Irish freshman that is moving up the depth chart. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER