|DuBois Area High School graduate Paul Butler, shown above right signing with agent Bill Parise and to the top left playing California University of Pa. this fall, is preparing for the NFL Draft as a tight end prospect.|
For Paul Butler, it’s been a long journey. One that he hopes doesn’t end anytime soon.
The journey for Butler, a 2011 DuBois Area High School graduate, has gone from Reynoldsville to DuBois to Akron, Ohio, to California, Pa., to Tampa, Fla., and hopefully to an NFL city. That’s right the NFL, as in the National Football League.
Butler is currently in the process of training for the upcoming NFL Draft in April as a tight end prospect. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Butler recently finished up his college career at California University of Pa., an NCAA Division II school in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. In the process, he earned a degree in sports management. Since graduating in December, the 23-year-old Butler has signed with an agent and has been training at a pro performance training center in Tampa, Fla., with other NFL hopefuls.
“There’s a lot of talent here,” Butler said. “Some of the best players in the country are down here.”
Butler said he will work out in Tampa for a total of 10 weeks until his pro days, which will be held in March at California University and also at the University of Akron. That’s when NFL scouts will get a closer look at Butler and other NFL prospects, measuring them on speed, strength, agility and other athletic abilities.
“It’s pretty much an 8-hour day here,” Butler said in comparing the training to a full-time job. He said they work out for three hours in the morning before breaking to eat and then weight lifting and position specific drills in the afternoon.
Butler said he is still learning the position of tight end, especially as in inline tight end in which you are asked to block more.
“When I first started (at tight end) and didn’t know any technique, I got my butt beat,” he said. “I definitely had to work on my blocking. I really tried to understand the coaching and learned how to become a smarter player on the football field.”
Butler compares his style of play to that of NFL tight ends Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I was a blocking tight end here at Cal, but I’m more of a receiving tight end like Gronk and Travis Kelce,” he said.
The position that Butler has played on the football field has changed almost as much over the years as the town in which he has played.
Butler’s dream of playing in the NFL began in his hometown of Reynoldsville where he played quarterback for the Reynoldsville Falcons youth midget football league team. Even through his high school years with the Beavers, he still had hopes of being a quarterback until he was moved to wide receiver midway through his junior year to take advantage of his height.
“I was a quarterback in midgets and until midway through my junior year (of high school) and then they moved me to wideout. It all worked out,” Butler said.
At a lanky 6-foot-5, 175 pounds, he played sparingly as a receiver in high school in a run-oriented offense under then head coach Jason Shilala. That led to very few looks from colleges. He said some Division II and III schools showed some interest. The University of Akron was the only Division I school that expressed interest. With that in mind, he chose to walk-on at Akron, a member of the Mid-American Conference.
Eligibility issues kept him from playing his first year and a coaching change forced him to walk-on again his second year. During that time, the Zips’ coaching staff had Butler on the defensive side of the ball at defensive end. An injury led the staff to switch Butler to offense and to the tight end position in his second season. Butler thought he played well enough as the scout team tight end to earn a scholarship, but an offer never came. That’s when he decided to transfer.
“I wasn’t with it after two years there. I decided it was time for a change,” he said.
After he asked for his release from Akron, Butler received some scholarship offers from Division II-level schools, but ultimately chose California.
“When I asked for my release from Akron, they sent out my release to a bunch of schools, like 20 or 30 schools,” he said. “I received a few offers, but chose Cal because I had that dream to play in the NFL and I knew Cal put players in the NFL.”
In fact, five former Cal players were on NFL rosters this past season, including C.J. Goodwin of the Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta Falcons.
Success didn’t come right away for Butler at Cal. He sat behind Texas Tech transfer Desmond Green at tight end for two years during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Butler finally got his break as a junior in 2015 and became the starting tight end for the Vulcans. However, after making his first catch in his first game at Virginia State, he suffered what would turn out to be a season-ending injury. Butler tore two ligaments in his foot in what is known as a Lisfranc injury. He eventually had surgery and had two pins placed in his foot.
Butler sat out of spring practice in 2016 and returned ahead of schedule for his senior season that fall.
“I really beat the time on (the recovery),” he said. “Full recovery should have been 13-14 months. I got back in like 8 months.”
He said the injury still bothers him at times and can especially feel the pins when playing in cold weather.
Despite that, he put together his best season this past fall as he caught 15 passes for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns. That was enough to earn Butler First Team All-PSAC honors and Third Team All-Region honors. It was also enough to catch the eyes of NFL scouts.
Butler admits his statistics aren’t eye-popping since Cal doesn’t utilize the tight end much in the passing game. His career numbers at Cal are 32 receptions for 381 yards and 5 TDs.
“Since I played in an offense that didn’t use the tight end much, my biggest thing will be my pro day,” he said in referring to how scouts will evaluate him.
Butler said that it helped that teammate Garry Brown, a senior wide receiver, was being looked at every game by NFL scouts. Brown was named a Division II All-American as a receiver and punter returner this season.
“During the season Garry Brown was getting some looks. It allowed me to get looks as well,” he said.
Butler said he had about 20 NFL teams looking at him this season and he actually talked to representatives from the Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants.
“That was pretty wild,” he said in regard to talking to NFL teams.
Butler said that while he may not actually get drafted, he’s confident that a team will sign him as an undrafted free agent.
“I will probably be an undrafted tight end, but I’m 100 percent confident I’m going to make it,” he said.
That kind of confidence, as well as his talent, is what led Butler to sign with an agent. In early January, he signed with agent Bill Parise of Sports Management and Marketing, Inc. Parise also serves as the agent for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Harrison was also once considered a longshot of making the NFL and was not drafted coming out of college in 2002.
But Butler doesn’t consider himself a longshot.
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about a plan B. I’ve never thought about not making it,” he said.
After a near six-year journey of overcoming adversity and obstacles through college, it’s easy to see why Butler feels that way.
“After 5 ½ years, it’s all paying off,” he said. “I always had this vision and burning desire that I could do something. I was just this kid from Reynoldsville. I’ve fought through adversity and never gave in to it. I always trusted God and had faith in him. I feel it was always his plan to get me there.”