Jabari Butler does not mind the spotlight. In fact, he enjoys it, and it’s easy to see why.
After playing high school football at one of the top programs in the nation, Butler has grown used to the spotlight being around him, and sometimes directly on him.
“Playing at Gorman, I think it prepared me for the spotlight because there were always camera around, ESPN was around at least once or twice a year, T.V. games, a ton of people in the stands, so it really prepared me for the college atmosphere,” Butler said. “I would definitely say I like the spotlight, I like the attention, but when it comes down to it, I just want to win games.”
Bishop Gorman is currently ranked the no. 1 high school team in the country. Over his time there, Butler helped lead the Gaels to two Div. I state championships in 2013 and 2014. Butler decided to make the move from Las Vegas to Abilene, where the culture and atmosphere could be considered polar opposites. The change didn’t scare him however, as he grew up in four different states throughout his childhood (Maryland, New jersey, Missouri and Nevada) and believed Texas could be a good fit.
“I felt really comfortable down here, I got to talk to some of the players and they really sold me on what ACU football is all about and made me want to be a part of it,” Butler said. “After talking with Keith Barnett and Lynn Grady, even after just a short time, I felt like I had known them my whole life.”
Although he might be in enemy territory, Butler still strongly supports his favorite NFL team.
“Spending time in New Jersey, I grew up loving the Giants,” Butler said. “Now, being in Cowboys territory, it’s interesting talking football with so many Dallas fans.”
Before the season began, Butler planned on redshirting and sitting out his first season. Those plans quickly changed after a spring scrimmage at Shotwell Stadium. A season-ending injury suffered by senior corner back Barnett pushed Butler into the starting secondary for the Wildcats.
“When Keith went down, I was asked to play a bigger role,” Butler said. “It was all so fast and crazy, like one day he was here, and the next you found out he’s out for six months. He was definitely the leader of the secondary, showed me how to find my place with the team, and it hurt a lot when he went down.”
His background at Bishop Gorman has already had a huge impact on how he has played for the Wildcats so far this season. As a true freshman, Butler not only leads ACU with four interceptions, but also is tied for the lead in the entire Southland Conference.
“During fall camp, it was actually really tough for me learning the play book, since it was pretty different from my high school’s,” Butler said. “Once I got that down, about the second week of practices, I started doing better and better. Then when I got my first start, I was ready to show what I could do.”
It didn’t take long for Butler to make a name for himself in the conference. After sitting out in the opener against Troy, Butler got the start against Houston Baptist at home and made the most of it. He recorded two interceptions in the game and returned them for a combined 56 yards on the way to ACU’s 49-21 win.
“Even with going to such a well-known high school, I was still nervous in my first college start,” Butler said. “I settled down after the first few drives and got comfortable. As I began to get my rhythm going, I started taking more chances on balls. Playing the short routes tighter and really going for stuff.”
The other two interceptions for Butler came against Lamar and last week against Incarnate Word. Butler credits much of his success to the atmosphere in Las Vegas, and after all he accomplished at Bishop Gorman, he hopes to continue that success for the next three years.
“Playing on a team that is that highly talented and competitive really makes you take everything seriously,” Butler said. “When you know there is a guy on the sideline that is really good and could take your spot if you’re not careful, it makes you play that much harder. I feel it’s the same way at ACU. We’ve got a lot of talent here and if the starters aren’t careful, they can be benched like anyone else. My job is to always come out and play the best ball I can every game and practice. That way the coaches have no choice but to leave me in.”
END OF SEASON UPDATE
Butler was named the Freshman of the Year for the Southland Conference. His six interceptions led the conference and earned him First-Team All-Southland Defensive Team honors.
Butler is only the second player in ACU’s history to take home an individual conference accolade in football, with the last coming from quarterback Jim Lindsey, who was voted the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in both 1969 and 1970. He also was second in the Southland with 15 passes defended.