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Football

Butler earns third cornerback spot with newfound maturity

| Thursday, August 27, 2015

Brian Kelly sounds ready to name Devin Butler as Notre Dame’s No. 3 cornerback. But the junior isn’t patting himself on the back just yet.

“It’s still not sewn up,” Butler said Monday. “You still got to go out and work hard. I’ve got very talented guys behind me. We’re just so deep at the corner position, so every day it’s a challenge.”

Butler’s caution is hardly surprising. Entering training camp this month, neither the Irish head coach nor observers expected him to be so far ahead of his competition. Freshmen Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Nick Coleman all showed potential, and with KeiVarae Russell returning from suspension, Butler appeared to be the odd man out.

Crawford went down with a torn ACL on Aug. 19, but even if he had stayed healthy, Butler had such a strong camp even Kelly admitted his surprise.

“If we were handicapping the corners, we would not have thought he’d be our third corner,” Kelly said. “He plays with so much more confidence. Speed. He’s a different player than he was last year.”

Junior cornerback Devin Butler makes a tackle in a 30-14 victory against Purdue on September 13 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The game was part of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series.Emily McConville | The Observer

Junior cornerback Devin Butler makes a tackle in a 30-14 victory against Purdue on September 13 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The game was part of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series.

Butler appeared in every game of the 2014 season, starting twice to fill in for injuries. He grabbed his first career interception and broke up the second most passes on the team.

But he wasn’t happy. Mistakes stuck in his head. Losses frustrated him. By his own admission, he needed to mature.

“It was definitely one of those times when you think about all the things you could have done differently,” Butler said. “Now I’m just thankful that I had the opportunity.”

Since then, Butler said, he has grown and developed into a veteran. Now an upperclassman in a secondary full of young talent, he wants to mentor the freshmen the same way older players guided him.

Cody Riggs, who graduated last spring, taught Butler how to watch film and pick up subtle indicators.

“I’m not just sitting there blindly watching games but paying attention to the details,” Butler said. “What are the receivers doing? Are they getting heavy in their stances before certain plays? Are they fixing their gloves?”

And not only has Butler changed the way he watches film, he now does it far more often. Last year, he said, he did “just enough” to get by, and only with his coaches. Now, he studies on his own and picks out things he can bring to practice.

“You really have to detail your work with everything,” he said. “Just go out every day and have one thing in mind that you need to get better at.”

Junior cornerback Devin Butler defends junior receiver Corey Robinson during the Blue-Gold Game at LaBar Practice Complex on April 18. Butler started two games for the Irish last season.Erin Rice | The Observer

Junior cornerback Devin Butler defends junior receiver Corey Robinson during the Blue-Gold Game at LaBar Practice Complex on April 18. Butler started two games for the Irish last season.

On the practice field, Butler still follows the example of another experienced cornerback. Russell’s return has challenged everyone in the unit to be better.

“He’s one of those guys that when you’re around him, you want to do so much better. You want to do the extra stuff, you want to do the extra reps, you want to match his intensity,” Butler said. “It’s not easy, but that’s the fun part, seeing how much you can do.”

Russell is not the only motivator for Butler. He has plenty of challengers for his spot at No. 3, and while all the cornerbacks have remained friendly, there is still an element of competition, he said.

“We’re always pushing each other. It’s fun,” Butler said. “They love it when I make plays, I love it when they make plays, and we’re really just getting at it together.”

There was no exact moment in time when Butler realized he had vastly improved this fall, he said. But all the same, he now sees a difference in himself.

“I just feel a lot more confident in myself and in my play,” Butler said. “I have a lot more confidence from my teammates, everyone’s been telling me good things. I just feel as though I’ve matured.”

That maturation process has taught Butler several lessons, he said. Among them, he feels the need to “value every snap, every rep,” that he can get.

Most importantly, however, he has bought in to a team-first mentality that has changed his perspective on the struggles of last season.

“Being able to get an opportunity for myself was fun, but not succeeding for my teammates was really disappointing for myself,” Butler said. “I just had to take a look within to see what I could do more for these guys, because I never want to let them down.

“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to make these guys successful.”

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg