Huskies Donald Butler in the middle of UW football rebuilding project
Senior was named Pac-10 defensive player of the week after Huskies' upset of USC
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Be it football or history — or football that makes history — Donald Butler likes being right in the center of the action.
Saturday, as the middle linebacker for the Washington Huskies, he made 12 tackles, intercepted a pass and forced a fumble as UW shocked No. 3-ranked USC, a performance that earned Butler Pac-10 defensive player of the week honors as well as one national defensive player of the week award.
"It was definitely a special day," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian.
So was the day in January when Butler and his mother, Janet Rice, made the trip to the Presidential Inauguration. They got tickets, flew to Washington D.C., and awoke at about 3 a.m. to get seats "right behind the people sitting in their chairs," he said. "To be a part of that is something I'll never forget."
And out of the hundreds of thousands of people who attended, Butler ended up being among the first quoted in a national news story on the event by a reporter who had no idea he played college football.
"It was really weird," Butler said. "Just some random guy on a bike rode up to me and said, 'Hey, sorry. I know I look kind of funny. But do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?' And that was that. And then I got at least 15 texts from people saying, 'Oh, you were at the Inauguration?' "
Butler received a lot more Saturday from friends who saw him help the Huskies pull off one of the most memorable wins in school history, a performance Butler agreed "was probably my best game."
And one reason for that is that he is again feeling comfortable where he is on the field, at middle linebacker. That was the position he came to UW to play out of Del Campo High in Sacramento.
After playing both in the middle and outside his first two years, he earned the starting middle linebacker job heading into last season. But after suffering a concussion against Stanford in the fourth game and sitting out the following week, he was moved again to the outside, a spot he hasn't enjoyed as much.
"I definitely like middle linebacker more than outside linebacker just because a team can't take you out of a play," said the 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior. "You can really roam sideline to sideline, and that's what I like to do."
When Sarkisian's staff took over, the coaches moved Butler back inside, a switch made easier by the return of E.J. Savannah to one of the outside slots.
"We saw a very physical player," Sarkisian said this week, explaining the move. "Donald is extremely physical and we thought he would do a better job taking on some of the interior linemen in our conference, yet have the speed and mobility to run sideline to sideline, and in our system, the middle linebacker has to be able to play not only in the box but on the run. And he is very, very bright and he's a guy who can get people lined up and make the adjustments, make the calls necessary for our system to really go."
Interestingly, for a while Butler contemplated playing for the team the Huskies vanquished Saturday, USC. He said that early in the recruiting process he narrowed his choice of schools to UW and the Trojans. He was recruited by current USC defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Rocky Seto.
Washington made a scholarship offer first, and Butler said when the Trojans heard that he was considering it "they kind of threw me to the side" and didn't pursue him any longer. "Obviously it's for the better," he said.
Though not without some obvious travails. Butler says one of the main lures of UW was the presence of Tyrone Willingham. "He was the reason I came here," Butler said.
And maybe more than some of his teammates, the firing of Willingham wore on Butler.
"It was kind of hard for me because I had been looking up to that guy since he had been at Stanford," Butler said. "It was kind of rough."
But Butler says it didn't take long for Sarkisian's staff to win him over. "They came in and were genuine and that's all you can ask for," says Butler, elected before the season by teammates as one of four captains.
Butler said he expects to graduate in the spring with a degree in construction management and business, with plans to work in the housing redevelopment industry, taking older homes and building them back up for families with lower incomes. His mother works in the same field in Tacoma.
For now, he'll continue helping rebuild the Huskies.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
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