Percy Butler’s athletic ability, speed and aggressiveness have never been questioned since joining UL’s program two years ago.
The former Plaquemine High standout displayed glimpses of his ability to contribute during his freshman season, collecting 10 tackles and a pass defense.
As a sophomore last season, the 6-foot, 190-pound safety became a starter in the secondary, finishing with 54 tackles with two pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
If Butler makes a few more steps over these next two seasons, perhaps he’ll continue the tradition of high-impact Green Devils in Cajun Country.
Sure, the offseason was rough.
First, there was arguably the program’s best all-time performer in quarterback Brian Mitchell and then the school’s first AP first-team All-American and fourth-round draft choice in offensive guard Kevin Dotson.
“When you see all the people doing it, it makes you think, ‘Why can’t that be me?’” Butler said. “That really motivated me to do the right thing, stay on the right track and keep my mind focused on the goal — going D-I and getting out of Plaquemine, or at least giving myself a chance to make it out of Plaquemine.”
Butler took his first major step as a college player last season when he learned the value of communicating better.
“I mostly made progress in communication (last year),” Butler said. “The first game, Mississippi State, that’s really what messed us up — bad communication that whole game. The first four games we were having bad communication, so teams that were really scoring weren’t really supposed to score. If we would have talked before the play and made the right checks and adjustments, I feel like they wouldn’t have scored."
This season, coach Billy Napier and defensive coordinator Patrick Toney are hoping his improved communication skills will translate into Butler being a better leader.
If you don’t believe in reaching for the stars, you might not want to talk to UL junior right tackle Max Mitchell any time soon.
“I think the big thing for Percy is he needs to continue to set a great example to the other players of how to work, how to prepare, how to be vocal and communicate as he continues a great career and continues to get better,” Napier said.
“He has played quality football, the guys in the locker room respect him, so I think he can be a really good leader for us as well,” Toney said.
Butler knows it, too.
“The next step is to bring people along with me,” he said. “Make everybody else around me better … like help them.”
If anyone knows exactly how well Butler played last season, it’s Toney, who was elevated from safeties coach to coordinator when Ron Roberts left the program for Baylor.
“You want to talk about playing good defense, protecting in the middle of the field first, right?” Toney said. “Well, Percy plays in the middle of the field for us quite a bit. The impact he made last year is if the ball was able to get to the second level, he was able to get it down, right? He kept an 8- to 9-yard gain an 8- to-9-yard game rather than letting it get explosive, which is huge in today’s game.”
So much of Butler’s skill set is based on his speed.
He was living with his grandmother in his home state of Indiana during his four seasons playing for the Hoosiers.
“The other thing he plays with is great range,” Toney said. “So in the middle of the field, he has what we call red line-to-red line range where he can get sideline-to-sideline to give us coverage. And he runs the alley really well. So we’re looking for him to continue to improve on that. We need him to take the next step and play with consistency like he showed he can.”
Napier appreciates Butler's balance as a safety.
“I think Percy’s unique,” he said. “I think Percy’s got some length. He’s not only fast, but he’s got some really good play speed. He’s a good tackler and he can match up. I think he’s a good man-to-man cover player.
“He’s one of the more significant special teams coverage players we had last year. He did a great job as a gunner and certainly on kickoffs, he was always a factor.”
Napier said Butler will play those same roles.
It’s not like Patrick Toney is a new face to the UL Ragin’ Cajuns’ defensive unit.
Despite now being one of the more seasoned veterans on the defense, however, Butler isn’t feeling any more pressure than usual.
“It’s not really on me,” Butler said. “It’s the whole defense. We put it as everybody as one. It’s really on all of us. If one person makes a mistake, it’s all our mistake. If one person makes a big play, it’s everybody’s big play.”
And the only real way to keep that healthy team-first attitude goes right back to those communication skills.
"So I feel like I made a big step as a communicator,” Butler said. “When you communicate, it helps people around you and it makes you play faster.”
It’s not like Catholic High of New Iberia redshirt junior defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill hasn’t been good during his career so far with the UL …