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N.C. 4AA State Championship: Fayetteville Britt vs. Butler 11 a.m. Saturday

The LeMays: Butler’s first family of football

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

MATTHEWS Saturday morning in Chapel Hill, Butler High will try to win its third state football championship in four years. That would cement the school - along with seven-time state champion Independence - as one of the greatest football programs in N.C. and Mecklenburg County history.

Many players have fueled Butler’s run to glory, but the most well-known, and maybe most integral, have been the LeMay brothers: Christian, Uriah, and Benny.

Christian, a high school All-American, quarterbacked the team for two years. Uriah, also a high school All-American, has been a receiver for four. Christian’s now at Georgia and Uriah will sign with the Bulldogs in February. Benny, a running backalready fielding Division I offers, is a rare freshman regular on this year’s varsity team.

“They’ve been invaluable,” said second-year Butler head coach Brian Hales, a former Bulldogs assistant who has been at the school for nine years. “They’re special athletes - look at who recruited them - and it’s been a huge benefit for us, obviously.”

Said Kannapolis A.L. Brown coach Mike Newsome, Butler’s coach from 2003-10: “The LeMays have been a huge part of what’s happened at Butler. I’m not going to discount that group in ’07 that had five (Division I) recruits at the same time. That really got us started, but in terms of getting us over the hump and taking it to another level, Christian and Uriah and the LeMay family, shoot, man, they’ve been a big part of that.”

In the five years before Christian enrolled as a sophomore in 2008, Butler was 50-15. From 2008-present, Butler is 58-4 and has never failed to reach at least the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

Before the LeMays got to Butler, the Bulldogs’ playoff record, all-time, was 12-9. Since 2008, Butler is 18-2 in the postseason, with two state titles and Saturday’s shot at a third.

“I remember when people would ask me, ‘Why go to Butler?’ ” Christian said. “It was because of coach Newsome and what he stands for and all that he does for his players and also what all the staff does for their players and still do.”

The LeMays have had lots of help.

Quarterback Riley Ferguson and his brother, Zach, who played receiver, contributed to many victories. Riley, then a sophomore, threw a touchdown pass to Zach, then a junior, in the 2010 state championship win.

There was All-America linebacker Kris Frost, now at Auburn, leading that 2010 team to a state title. There have been stars like tailback Jahwan Edwards, now at Ball State; and Austin Stewart, who had two interceptions in the 2010 championship; and current players such as All-America linebacker Peter Kalambayi and tailback Josh Glisson.

But almost always - alongside the other stars - you could find a LeMay.

In the beginning ...

Christian LeMay, the oldest, was the quarterback of the first state championship team in 2009. He threw for 3,296 yards and 44 touchdowns with only two interceptions, establishing himself as one of the nation’s top two recruits at his position entering his senior season in 2010.

Before Christian got there, Butler had always been good but could never get past nationally ranked Independence.

“It means a lot to me to be on the first team to bring it home for Charlotte other than (Independence),” he said. “Butler always seemed to be the little brother to (Independence).”

In 2008, Christian’s sophomore year, Independence made its ninth straight N.C. 4AA Western Regional championship game, beating Butler 49-7 in the playoff quarterfinals .

The next season, Independence was again the team to beat, but the Butler coaches suspected things might be about to change.

Hales said they thought Christian might be special, but they didn’t know for sure until the third game of his junior year. The Bulldogs trailed 31-17 in the fourth quarter at N.C. powerhouse Richmond Senior.

LeMay threw three touchdown passes in three possessions, leading his team to a program-defining 38-31 victory. That sparked a 31-game winning streak and led to the Bulldogs displacing Independence as the state’s top team. Butler beat Independence twice in 2009 and hasn’t lost to the Patriots in the five meetings since then.

Butler also won that 2009 state title, beating Fayetteville Britt 48-17. Christian threw for 189 yards and three touchdowns and was named the game MVP. He was later named the Observer’s offensive player of the year. A 6-foot-6 lineman from Rock Hill South Pointe named Jadaveon Clowney won on defense.

Patriarch, matriarch

Stacy LeMay, the players’ father, was an all-state player in high school in New Jersey and played at Florida A&M. He met his wife, DeNae, at a basketball game between A&M and Bethune-Cookman. She was Bethune-Cookman’s “Miss Senior.”

The couple was married in September 1990, around the time Stacy LeMay said he gave his life to God. In 1999, he became an ordained pastor, later serving as team chaplain at the University of Florida. His kids were around Gators players regularly. Christian could call quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Chris Leak his friends.

“They were always around football,” LeMay said.

In 2005, the LeMays moved to the Charlotte area to start a church here. The family landed in Union County. LeMay started Champion Christian Center via word of mouth. There were 60 people at the first service at South Mecklenburg’s gym.

In 2007, Christian started on Porter Ridge’s varsity as a freshman. The team went 2-9. LeMay decided to move his kids into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. He said he was “looking for overall the best place for our family.”

He looked closely at Independence and coach Tom Knotts, who had a history of developing top-notch quarterbacks. Knotts had turned Leak into a high school national player of the year.

But LeMay settled on Butler, which at the time was a clear No. 2 behind Knotts’ Patriots.

LeMay eventually opened a new permanent location for his church in the Pineville area. He said it has nearly 400 members now. His wife is associate paster. His boys and his daughter, 16-year-old Jasmine, are very active.

The senior and the freshman

The middle brother, Uriah, is a senior wide receiver. He’s 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. He will play in the Semper Fidelis All-America Bowl in Carson, Calif. It will air live on NFL Network Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. (EST) . Uriah has 935 yards receiving this season to lead the team. He averages 20 yards per catch.

But Uriah didn’t always like football. His father said whereas his other boys always wanted to play some kind of sports, he connected with Uriah by watching Animal Planet or going into the backyard to play with worms.

“He was just an outdoorsman as a kid,” Christian said.

Uriah laughs at that.

“I wasn’t always a big fan of football, nor contact,” he said. “As I grew older, I developed a different mindset. ... On top of that, I was getting to be a heavy-set kid and needed the exercise.”

Uriah has grown into a tall, strong, physical receiver who chose Georgia - and playing with brother Christian again - over Clemson, Nebraska, Ohio State and Virginia Tech.

Next up is Benny, who played on a youth national championship team with the Mint Hill Chargers in middle school and played in two Under Armour Youth All-America games. Benny is 5-10, 205 pounds. He said he wants to make sure to carry on the family legacy at Butler.

“At times,” he said, “it can be tough because of the success (Christian and Uriah) have had over the years. It kind of puts pressure on you to keep it going. But I take it as motivation to keep pressing and working harder at everything I do.”

Benny is one of a few freshman in Butler history to play on varsity regularly. He’s second on the team in rushing with 402 yards, behind Glisson (1,404).

“There’s not a lot of freshmen you can put in at fullback and play our schedule and be able to run behind him the way we’ve been able to,” Butler coach Hales said. “His future is as bright as his brothers’ was.”

Family tradition: Championships

Christian, a back-up quarterback at Georgia, violated a school rule and didn’t play in the 2010 season, his senior year, but Uriah was part of the 2009 and 2010 championships.

Uriah can win a third state title Saturday, when the Bulldogs play Fayetteville Britt. Benny can win his first.

“It’s unbelievable,” Stacy LeMay said. “People ask me ‘How do you get three All-Americans in one house?’ I say ‘Feed ’em a Bible.’ That’s the secret.”

Newsome, the former coach, believes LeMay constantly having his kids around the game had a lot to do with it, too.

“Look at football coaches’ sons,” Newsome said. “They may not have every single thing, the measurables; they may not be 6-3, 200, but most of the time they’re good football players. It has to do with them being around football their whole lives. These LeMays, they’ve been around high level football and they do have the measurables.”

That’s all led to a lot of success and days like Saturday.

Christian’s Georgia Bulldogs play Alabama for the SEC championship and a shot at the BCS national title. Butler, ranked as high as fifth in the national polls, will try to win its third state title in four years and get in line for a mythical national championship of its own.

In the middle of the Bulldogs’ run, as always, will be a couple of LeMays.

“It is such an honor,” Christian said, “to be a family in the city with a name that speaks for itself due to the way my brothers have played and how they hold themselves on and off the field.

“I get choked up thinking about how much they mean to me and how much they have grown and how mature they act for their age with the spotlight being on them 24-7. They handle it so well and are making the LeMay and Butler name great. I feel they will be spoken of in Butler lore for a long time after they leave school.”

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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