Over the past decade, the Butler football program has built it’s reputation on high-powered offenses.
Since 2006, the Bulldogs have scored 5,972 points – 44 points per game – while notching 113 victories, three N.C. 4AA state championships (2009, 2010, 2012) and seven Southwestern 4A (SW4A) conference titles.
Much of the spotlight has focused on former Butler skill players – from quarterbacks Christian LeMay, Riley Ferguson and Anthony Ratliff-Williams to former running backs Ryan Houston, Jahwan Edwards and Bennie LeMay.
But it has been the Butler offensive line that has paved the way. No one understands the unsung heroes on the line better than head coach Brian Hales.
He coached the Bulldogs’ offensive line (2008-11) as an assistant to Mike Newsome, and played offensive line (guard) at Kent State University.
“It takes a special type of guy to play offensive line, because you know you are not going to get the attention or the credit,” said Hales, who is 58-14 in his five seasons as Butler’s head coach. “Most of the time, no one notices you, until you do something wrong. You’ve got to be the most physically and mentally tough players on the team on every play, because you can’t take a play off. You have to communicate at all times, and be able to adjust in a split second.”
Paving the way
Hales said he is excited about his group this season.
The group includes three seniors: center, Connor Reed (5-10, 235); right tackle, Devin Smith (6-0, 255, all-SW4A conference pick); and his twin brother, guard Kedron Smith (6-0, 295, all-SW4A pick).
Kedron missed most of the summer due to injury, but is expected back in the lineup soon, Hales said.
Junior left tackle, Cam Taylor (6-1, 310), also returns after earning all-SW4A honors as a sophomore. The Bulldogs also have depth and experience in seniors, Isaiah Belk and Jamal Clark and junior, Jeff Routh.
“Our offensive line is going to be huge for us,” Hales said. “Just to have that familiarity to make adjustments with games is big. They aren’t just worried about their individual assignments, they can look at the bigger picture and that allows us to do a lot more as an offense.”
The Butler offense also will benefit from the return of their two, offensive line coaches in Blake Yarbrough and Matt Kunze.
Yarbrough was a standout left tackle at Butler (2007 graduate) before becoming a four-year starter for the UNC Pembroke. Kuntz played offensive line at the University of Northern Colorado.
“I tell our offensive lineman the same thing every season, that we are going to be the first to get blame when things go wrong, and the last to get credit when things go right,” Yarbrough said. “But our guys aren’t playing (offensive line) for the glory. They enjoy doing all the dirty work that goes unnoticed.”
Reed, says everything is about winning.
“We don’t worry about who gets the credit, we just want to win games,” Reed said. “We want to make them (quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers) look good. Because the better they look, the better we look.”
Former Butler standout, Kendall Lamm is an example of that. Lamm, 6-foot-3, 305, proved himself in college (at Appalachian State) and now in the NFL. He started four games as a rookie last season for the Houston Texans.
Lamm visited the Butler team this summer, giving even more inspiration to this team, especially the lineman.
A Familiar ‘Ring’
Butler’s goal this season is to get back into championship contention after losing in the second round of the state playoffs the last two seasons.
While everything starts up front with Reed, the Smith twins and Taylor, the Bulldogs return several key offensive starters, including quarterback Davis Cheek (6-3, 180, Elon University commit) and wide receivers, Dirk Cureton (5-10, 185) and D.J. Little (6-1, 187).
Hales said he is expecting underclassmen like junior running back, Nijere Peoples, sophomore running backs, brothers, Traveon (6-0, 195) and Raekwon Freeman (5-9, 180) and sophomore receiver Keyon Lesane (5-9, 175) to play bigger roles.
Also, the Butler defense returns eight starters, led by all-SW4A seniors: linebacker, Christian Dixon (6-0, 200) and defensive tackle, Maurice McClain (6-1, 305).
But, no matter what position they play, all of the Butler players are focused on a championship. Hales said this is the first year since 2008, that no one on his roster has a state championship ring.
“Our players see (Butler grads) come back with state championship rings and I know how badly they want a ring, want to be a part of the championship tradition at Butler,” Hales said. “We are very accustomed to winning here. We talk about championships 24 hours a day in the classroom, in the weight room, on the practice field, everywhere we go.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.