Butler has done it so far for Nevada
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Ezra Butler’s path to football success has differed from the rest of his Nevada teammates.
He didn’t spend his childhood years playing pee-wee football. Instead, soccer and cricket were his first loves.
You see, Butler spent the first 14 years of his life in South Africa, and didn’t know the difference between a first-down marker and a goal post. He didn’t come to America until his aunt and uncle moved from England to Southern California. He ended up at tiny Calabasas High School.
It was there that he met current teammate Alex Rosenblum, who played on the school’s soccer team with Butler. Rosenblum convinced Butler, who weighed around 270 pounds, to come out for the football team his sophomore year.
Talk about a fish out of water. Butler was greener than the greenest rookie.
“I didn’t know anything about the game or what I was doing,” Butler said. “We were scrimmaging one day, and the coach is yelling at me that it’s fourth-and-2 and to tough it out. That’s when I asked the coach what a fourth down was.
“I actually quit the team when I found out that you had to show up all the time in the spring and summer. I was out of there. I came back. I’m too competitive. I just can’t quit things like that.”
Mostly on his athletic ability, Butler kept getting better and better. He was a first team all-league selection his junior and senior years, and the team’s defensive MVP each of those years.
“To this day, I can’t tell you what I was supposed to do,” Butler said of his high school playing experience. “When I first came here (in 2003), Derek Kennard Jr. told me I needed to become a student of the game. I talked to everybody, players and coaches. That’s how I learned this last defense.”
Butler played eight games at defensive tackle in 2004 as a redshirt freshman. He was a raw talent, and you could see he had some big-time potential. Of his 19 tackles, four of them were behind the line of scrimmage.
Butler played middle linebacker in high school, and he constantly talked to Barry Sacks, the Pack’s co-defensive coordinator, about moving to linebacker in the Pack’s new 3-4 scheme.
“I asked coach Sacks before the spring game if I could move to linebacker and he said no,” Butler said.
Butler was persistent. He knew he had the athleticism to be an outside linebacker. When he was timed in 4.6 in the 40 later that spring, the Pack braintrust made the move.
“I knew he was an athlete,” Sacks said. “Because of his shoulder, I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to do it. It was going to be a new position for him.”
Other than changing to the pistol offense, it might be the smartest thing the coaching staff has done in recent years.
Butler, who injured his shoulder late in his redshirt freshman year. He got into shape and dropped all the way down into the 250-pound range.
“I just ran and ran, and cut down on my food intake,” Butler said. “I definitely liked fast food a lot, but I found I couldn’t keep eating like that. I still have a burger and fries and salad for lunch sometimes. Occasionally I’ll have a steak.”
Butler used flaxmeal, which is a type of seed. He mixed it in with oats, wild rice and porridge. He described it as “high-energy food.” Butler has tried to stay with the diet during the season with success.
It was a different guy that showed up for fall camp last year. He was faster and more athletic, and it paid huge dividends.
Butler finished last season with 75 tackles, 15.5 behind the line of scrimmage and 5 1/2 of those were sacks.
Neither Butler or the rest of the defense played up to par the first couple of weeks of this season, according to Sacks.
“He was trying to do too much,” Sacks said. “He was trying to make every play out there. He wasn’t being disciplined enough. He’s been much better the last four weeks.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface with Ezo. He just has so much potential, and he is still learning the game.”
Butler had eight stops against Hawai’i, and he had five stops against San Jose, a game that saw him almost sack Adam Tafralis twice in the end zone, and he had five stops, including 1 1/2 sacks against New Mexico State. His quickness off the edge make it tough on any tight end or tackle.
Sacks said there is no doubt in his mind that Butler has a future in professional football because of his speed and athleticism.
“It’s everyone’s dream; it’s my dream,” Butler said. “Right now, I’m only thinking about Nevada football and how many more championships we can win while I’m here.”
• Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281