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Butler wants to recapture magic of 2009's bowl-winning season
Two years ago, Butler University completed an 11-1 football season with its first postseason victory ever in the Gridiron Classic. That ledger came with a caveat: Seven wins were by a touchdown or less.
Fortunes reversed last year. The Bulldogs were 4-7, losing three games by eight or fewer points.
“I think we gained a much better appreciation for details,” said Jeff Voris, who is starting his sixth season as Butler coach.
Many of the players from 2009 are back, intent on making 2011 more like that ‘09 than ‘10. The Bulldogs are picked to finish fifth in the Pioneer Football League. Here are five key aspects of the team as it prepares to open its season at home against Albion at 1 p.m. Saturday:
Pitch and catch
Third-year starting quarterback Andrew Huck (Bloomington North) needs to recapture some of what happened in ‘09. He has passed for 33 touchdowns and 4,319 yards in his career. “He just keeps getting better,” Voris said. Another quarterback, West Lafayette’s Matt Lancaster, a transfer from Illinois State, is a redshirt possibility. WR Zach Watkins caught 68 passes for 703 yards last season and 78 for 918 the year before.
The Dawgs’ defense features co-captains in linebackers Jordan Ridley (Lawrence Central) and Nick Caldicott. Ridley made the all-league team and led the PFL with 130 tackles. Caldicott was Butler’s defensive MVP in ‘09. Also returning is defensive end Grant Hunter, who led Butler in sacks and tackles for loss.
They are special
Butler may have a special teams advantage with punter Michael Wilson and place-kicker David Lang. Wilson was a second-team all-league selection, and Lang set a school record with 14 field goals.
Young and old
Butler has 21 seniors, the largest such group under Voris, in addition to more than 30 newcomers. Butler has been successful in attracting players within a four-hour drive of the campus, including 16 freshmen from suburban Chicago and seven from Ohio. Voris said Butler “changed the mind-set” and set out to recruit Division I-level talent.
“It still takes a special guy here,” Voris said. “He’s got to be committed to academics and committed to the guy next to him.”
Stepping up in class
With the looming additions of Mercer and Stetson, the PFL will grow to 12 teams, enough for divisions and a championship game. If the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs expand, there is a possibility that the PFL – whose teams don’t award football scholarships – will earn an automatic playoff berth.
“There’s a 63-scholarship difference. We all get that,” Voris said. “But our guys have the same passion and commitment for the game. Our champion would represent our league very well.”
Butler has scheduled higher-profile opponents, including a Sept. 10 visit to Indiana State. The Bulldogs will play Dartmouth in 2012 and ‘13, and Princeton in a home-and-home series later this decade.