OT belongs to JB.
He threw the block to spring Tyler Reitz for the go-ahead touchdown in Joliet Catholic Academy’s 34-33 overtime football victory over Nazareth Academy.
Then, after Nazareth scored and elected to go for the win on a two-point conversion play, Butler batted down a screen pass throw by the Roadrunners’ Jake Bartels. Game over. JCA wins.
The only thing Butler didn’t do was clean up the shattered mess that was Nazareth’s dream of pulling off an improbable come-from-behind win at Joliet’s Memorial Stadium. He was too busy celebrating with his teammates.
“Well, it was a ‘Tommy,’ so we had a 3-4 going,” Butler said of JCA’s defensive call on the two-point play. “When I came off the ball and they let me go, I had a feeling they were running a screen. They ran a couple earlier. I dropped back and got my hand on the ball.”
Butler uses his big paws to make big plays for JCA (3-1, 2-0) on both sides of the ball. He is a 6-foot-3, 270-pound junior in his second year playing on the varsity level, still growing into his body and just beginning to tap into his enormous potential.
On offense, he starts at left tackle. He has the power to drive into opponents lined up across from him. And he has the athletic ability to get out and serve as a personal escort for JCA’s backs in the Hilltoppers’ patented pulling and trapping game.
On defense, he is used as a tackle in JCA’s 3-4 alignment, wreaks havoc on the inside and makes noise on the outside, too. The Hilltoppers will call on him to unleash his mighty roar when they play at Marist (4-0, 2-0) on Friday night in a showdown for first place in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
“I’ve played both offense and defense all the way growing up,” Butler said. “I love defense—it’s awesome. I like making plays. You can be more of a standout on defense than in the offensive line. But offense comes first at JCA, and that’s my main position. I’m pretty good at it, so that’s what I’ll stick with.”
Butler is so good, in fact, JCA coach Dan Sharp is hearing from folks at Northwestern and many other Big Ten schools already asking about whether Butler can play on the Division I level. Sharp said Butler is a shorter version of ex-JCA standout and Michigan Rose Bowl starter Mike Kolodziej, who grew to 6-7 and 315 when he played tackle with the Wolverines.
“He played every down last year as a sophomore on the varsity,” Sharp said of Butler. “So, it’s almost like he’s going to get two senior years now. He’s had all that experience from last year. What he’s done this year besides his playing ability, he’s become a tremendous leader for us, too.
“He’s a guy that, for a junior, to have the respect that he has in his leadership role is amazing. I think a lot of that has to do with his confidence from playing every down last year as a sophomore.”
Like Kolodziej, Butler once played basketball. He still plays baseball at JCA. He batted nearly .500 playing on the Hilltoppers’ sophomore team last spring.
“He works very hard,” Joliet Catholic Academy offensive line coach Dave Douglas said. “He’s a kid that’s got one of those engines that goes 100 miles an hour all the time. It gives him a great opportunity to do well.
“He’s a got a great attitude. He’s a good team leader for our offensive linemen. And, probably, the stars are the only thing that’s going to be above him when it’s all said and done.”
Douglas and JCA trace the Hilltopper tradition of producing quality offensive linemen back to Tom Thayer and some of his predecessors. Thayer went on to play at Notre Dame and was a starter on the Bears’ team that won the Super Bowl following the 1985 season. He now serves as an analyst on the Bears’ radio broadcasts.
“In the past, we’ve had some tackles that were big guys,” Douglas said. “They were not as mobile as J.B. We’ve been able to use him to pull and play on the defensive line a little bit. So, his athleticism is being used to its fullest.
“I’ve got to be honest, he’s got the high motor like Joe Minor had who played for us a few years ago. If you knew Joe when he played here, that’s a pretty good compliment for him to get. We’ve had a lot of guys here—I kind of always take the attitude that each guy is his own person.
“I think J.B. has got his own little niche to find. We’ve got him playing tackle. Maybe at the next level, he’ll play some guard or center. But he’s doing a little bit of everything so he’s going to be ready to go.”
Never was that more evident than in OT against Nazareth Academy. The moment belonged to JB. Or do you call him James Robert Butler?