The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

April 16, 2014

Justin time

Jefferson standout decides Westminster College is the place for him

It was just four short years ago that Justin Butler was spending his fall on a soccer field.

As an eighth grader, the future Jefferson linebacker was playing football of a different kind as he decided he’d rather spend the season playing soccer than sitting the sidelines on a football season because of a cast on his arm.

“I was in a cast, so I decided to play soccer instead of sitting on the sidelines, I put some bubble wrap on it and played,” he said.

But, his passion for football and a little convincing from Jefferson coach Jimmy Henson got Butler back on the gridiron.

That turned out to be a good choice for the Falcon as he will continue his education and football career at Westminster College.

“Really, growing up for the most part, (playing in college) never really was in my thoughts,” he said. “I think I started thinking about it last year when I started then everything fell into place.”

Growing up in Jefferson and living on a farm his whole life, Butler said the familiarity of the surroundings at Westminster were a draw to him.

“I really just liked it,” said. “I live on a farm, it’s not a big city. It just has that home feel to it. I think that’s what I liked best about it.”

Butler also felt it was that experience growing up on a farm that helped give him an edge on the football field.

“I think so, I don’t think I’m too biased to say that we farmers are some of the best working people,” he said. “When something needs done you can’t stop, you just do it. I think that carries over for me on the football field. There’s no getting out of any practices or anything.

“If you have to do it, you go out and do it.”

After finishing 4-6 last season, the Titans are now under the direction of first-year coach Scott Benzel.

Going to a program with a coach in his first season was appealing to Butler.

“They just hired a new coach, so it’s mostly a new staff and I like that,” he said. “It’s somewhere you can walk in and be an equal to everybody else.”

As far as playing as a freshman is concerned, Butler knows he will continue to lineup at linebacker as he did as a starter for the Falcons the past two season.

He also knows he will have to work to get on the field.

“I don’t want to be cocky and (expect to play right away) I know I just have to go out and work hard,” he said. “I know it’ll be hard so wherever I end up, I end up. I’m going to try my best and if I don’t get on the field right away I’ll work to get on as a sophomore.”

As far as his career at Jefferson was concerned, Butler was part of a quite an impressive run of success for the Falcons.

In his first three seasons, Jefferson had a winning record, culminating with an 8-2 season his junior year, in which Butler started at linebacker on a defense that was statistically ranked second in Ashtabula County.

Butler recorded two interceptions that season.

“The biggest highlight of my entire high school career was having the winning records, especially going 8-2 and being one of the starters on that team,” he said.

His senior year didn’t go quite as well as he would’ve liked from a team standpoint, but Butler still recorded two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.

While the record was disappointing, he did see some positives from the year.

“It was a little upsetting, but the more I look back on it, we lost so many close games and we only had two returning starters, so there really was nothing else we could do,” he said. “It’s not like we got the snot kicked out of us. The senior class, the guys that I’m with for the last four years, they were good leaders. I couldn’t be in a better class.

“As people got more experience, we started to play better. We dealt with a lot of things this year and maybe if some more guys stay healthy the season turns out much more different than it did.”

As far as his favorite moment playing for the Falcons is concerned, he said his favorite memory was defeating Edgewood at home this season in what could only be described as a wild night.

“I have to say beating Edgewood this year is my favorite memory just because it was the craziest game I’ve ever been involved in,” he said. “Just the touchdowns called back, the penalties, the turnovers on downs, all that. It was a county rival, too. It’s just always good to beat Edgewood.”

Butler said he believes he was part of a few Falcon teams that brought respect to the program and he expects that to translate into more success in the All-American Conference this year.

“Now that we’re winning games, a lot of people have to give us respect, we’re not seen as just a good old Ashtabula County team,” he said. “We know we can go into the conference and compete, not just get beat. I think next year, they’re gonna run the table and contend for the AAC and give it even more respect.”

The son of Jim and Seanna Butler said his mom has been particularly important in helping him throughout his football career.

“My mom is really more of the get up and go football guy, my dad doesn’t really get into the sport, so it’s more backward than most,” he said. “As far as recruiting, my mom as been really good about helping me out and going to schools with me.”

Butler, who plans to become a veterinarian once he completes school, also credited Henson for all his support as his coach.

“Coach Henson, for sure, he’s been my go-to guy for all four years,” he said. “When I took off eighth grade and didn’t play, Coach Henson convinced me to get back. He helped me get in contact with most of these schools. He’s been my football dad and I can’t thank him enough.

“All the coaches we had, they’re all like family to us and they’ve all be there, helping me in different ways.”

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