Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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76 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan junior tight end Jake Butt's football story didn't begin with visions of play- ing in maize and blue. He didn't dream of wearing the winged helmet growing up, and if he had been able to choose between the Wolverines and Ohio State … well, he was all scarlet and gray. With rare exception, that's just the way it is for those born in the shadows of Ohio Stadium. The Notre Dame Stadium turf, though, is where one of his heroes made his mark, and the roots planted there branched into a family of football fanatics. The ground that Irish fans call hallowed, in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus, was where Butt's grand- father, the late Bob Lally, earned one or two national championships in 1947 and 1948, depending on which side of the Michigan- Notre Dame rivalry you're on (the Wolver- ines and Irish both stake claim to 1947 based on two separate polls). Either Ohio State or Notre Dame would have been a good bet on where Butt would end up. His dad and cousins — literally dozens of them, given his 22 aunts and un- cles — were all Buckeyes, born and bred. And in 2005, Butt's grandfather, diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, arranged to fly his son-in-law and grandson over Notre Dame Stadium when the Irish faced USC … in the Goodyear blimp, no less. "It was the game they did the 'Bush push,'" Butt said with a laugh, recalling the game in which the Trojans scored in the last minute when a teammate pushed running back Reggie Bush over the goal line. "He knew the guy that controlled the blimp, so he took us up a few hours before the game started. … That was pretty cool. "He had Alzheimer's for almost as long as I can remember, but for some reason … it was weird, but you could always tell he was there in a way. He would always light up when he'd see me and my brothers or cous- ins. He could sing songs from back in the day when he was playing at Notre Dame." Following his lead would have been only natural, and Butt might well have if only the Irish had recruited him. But they passed due in large part to his size, and while OSU also ignored him, Michigan never let up. Butt's grandfather wasn't around to advise him, passing away in 2008 when his grand- son was in eighth grade, but he still played a part in his decision. "I came to Michigan because I wanted to beat Ohio State and play in some of these great rivalries," Butt said. "I came to Michigan because I wanted to win. But I also chose Michigan because I would get a chance to play against Notre Dame, which is where my grandpa played. I knew my sopho- more year I'd be traveling there." Part of his mission was to get a win and play well against his grandfather's alma ma- ter. The other — to bring his grandpa home. Before the game, before the first fans even entered the stadium, he accomplished his goal. "One of his wishes was to have some of his ashes spread on that field," Butt said. "We got that arranged where I took some of his ashes and put them right on midfield before I went out and caught some passes early with the quarterbacks. I only got a few plays and we obviously didn't do too well [in a game U-M lost 31-0], but it was still was special to be able to do that. "Once I committed, we kind of had it planned out for a long time that we were going to do that." Battling Back He almost didn't get the opportunity. In February 2014, only seven months before the Wolverines were slated to face the Irish, he heard a "pop" while running a corner pattern in winter conditioning drills. He went to the ground in pain, and an MRI confirmed what he feared — a torn ACL. Doctors would later discover during surgery that he'd also torn his meniscus. His thoughts quickly shifted to Sept. 13 and South Bend, but his disappointment was about more than the promise he'd made to his family. "It was about my grandfather, but just as much a goal of proving people wrong," Butt said. "That's really motivated me my whole life … I've always been undersized, not too fast, can't jump too high. I've heard that my whole life … 'You'll never play there.' I just let that motivate me. "When I tore my ACL, I asked right away, 'What are the chances that I get to play at Notre Dame?' I could see they were trying to be nice and put it a nice way, but I could tell they were thinking, 'You're not going to do that.' But I'm the type of guy who is not going to take no for an answer." While doctors and coaches talked redshirt or a return for the Big Ten season at the earliest, Butt spent his summer in the rehab room. Whatever they asked him to do — stretching, lifting — he'd do it three times over, trying to strengthen his knee and hasten his return. He wasn't alone. Teammates pushed him, as did his grandfather's spirit, but that wasn't all — he literally had dozens of Butts behind him. Many of them showed up at Michigan Stadium last fall when he slowly worked his way back into the lineup. He was never 100 percent, but an over the shoulder touchdown grab in a win over Miami (Ohio) was one of the first steps toward a recovery that's con- tinued through this spring. After the game, and as they always are, his family was out- side the locker room waiting for him. His dad sported a Michigan jersey with "Papa Butt" on the back. One of his cousins (or it might have been a brother, he chuckled) wore "Head Butt." "They get to as many games as possible, and they all have some kinds of jerseys or shirts that say some kind of Butt on there," Butt said with a laugh. "My family has fun with it. You might see 15 to 20 of them walk- ing around the stadium on any given Satur- day … too many for me to even count. "We're a really close family. We used to go on family retreats in the summer up to Lake Erie on my mom's side, and we'd rent out the entire resort because we have such a big family." Most of them were Ohio State fans grow- ing up, he admitted, but they're proud to wear their names on their maize-and-blue jerseys. "I love my last name," Butt said. "And that's what makes it so great. I was real sen- sitive about it when I was in middle school and elementary school, because that's when you're real sensitive. I got made fun of a lot. MAN ON A MISSION His Grandfather's Legacy Fuels Tight End Jake Butt Butt, an Ohio native, had a career game versus the Buckeyes in 2013, hauling in fi ve catches for 85 yards and a score in a one- point defeat. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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