No ifs, ands or buts for Don Butkus

Mount Carmel grad earns nom­i­na­tion for Mayo Clinic come­back player award

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - Sports - Pat Dis­abato pdis­abato@tribpub.com Twit­ter @dis­abato

Don Butkus can laugh about it now.

But when he suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing ham­string in­jury last sea­son, he had con­sid­ered hang­ing up his cleats for good.

Imag­ine that: the 6-foot, 195-pound Butkus, who led Mount Carmel to the 2012 Class 8A state cham­pi­onship and whose name is syn­ony­mous with hard-nosed foot­ball, end­ing his ca­reer pre­ma­turely.

He still had one sea­son of el­i­gi­bil­ity re­main­ing.

Donny Foot­ball’s com­pet­i­tive juices, how­ever, wouldn’t al­low it.

Butkus’ de­ci­sion to re­turn for a fi­nal sea­son as St. Fran­cis’ quar­ter­back in 2018was re­warded Tues­day when hewas nom­i­nated for the Mayo Clinic Come­back Player of the Year Award.

He’s one of 30 college foot- ball play­ers who will have that dis­tinc­tion, and of the 15 al­ready nom­i­nated, he’s the only one from theNAIA level.

“For all the­work I’ve put in to come back, to be nom­i­nated for this award is an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing,” Butkus said. “How­did they findme all the­way here in Joliet and nom­i­nate me? Iwas su­per shocked. It’s jaw-drop­ping to me.”

But it’s de­serv­ing.

In eight games, he has com­pleted 82 of 145 passes for 1,245 yards and 15 touch­downs. He also has rushed for 148 yards and three TDs.

That’s out­stand­ing pro­duc­tion. Even more im­pres­sive when you con­sider he’s com­ing off a se­ri­ous ham­string in­jury.

“When it’s cold out, I can still feel it,” Butkus said.

Let’s rewind to St. Fran­cis’s 2017 sea­son opener against Morn­ing­side. Butkus had the game of his life, throw­ing for a pro­gram-record 520 yards.

With 10 games re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son, the 2013 Mount Carmel grad­u­ate al­lowed his mind towan­der.

“Com­ing out of (high school) as a veer quar­ter­back, throw­ing for that many yards in a game was not some­thing I ever imag­ined,” Butkus said.“With a game like that, I’m think­ing po­ten­tial first team all-con­fer­ence or­maybe All-Amer­i­can.”

What hewasn’t think­ing about­was suf­fer­ing a sea­so­nend­ing in­jury in­Week 2.

But that’s what hap­pened. “Iwas run­ning up­field when all of a sud­den I heard a pop,” Butkus said. “I knew it­wasn’t good.”

Of course, when your great un­cle is leg­endary Bears line­backer Dick Butkus, you de­cide to play through the in­jury.

“I tried to play in­Week 3,” Butkus said. “But the pain came back. It­was tough.”

So tough, as I men­tioned ear­lier, that Butkus red­shirt con­tem­plated re­tir­ing.

Win­ners don’t quit, and Butkus is a win­ner.

“I didn’twant to leave on that note,” Butkus said. “I felt like I would have had re­grets the rest ofmy life if Iwalked away like that with one year of el­i­gi­bil­ity left. I’m glad I de­cided to play this year.”

I can’t say I’m sur­prised. Butkus, 23, showed re­mark­able per­se­ver­ance and tough­ness dur­ing his days atMount Carmel. Hewas the cat­a­lyst of an of­fense that pro­duced 532 points in 2012. Seven times the Car­a­van scored at least 40 points.

His in­tro­duc­tion to college foot­ball, how­ever, proved to be a chal­lenge.

Hewas red­shirted his fresh­man sea­son and then suf­fered a med­i­cal red­shirt his sopho­more sea­son af­ter tearing the labrum in his right throw­ing shoul­der.

“It­was a tough start tomy college ca­reer,” Butkus said. “I’m like, ‘What’s go­ing on here?’ ”

Butkus has made up for lost time, twice earn­ing all-con­fer­ence hon­ors in the Mid-States As­so­ci­a­tion Mid­west League.

And nowa nom­i­na­tion for the Mayo Clinic Come­back Player of the Year Award, with the win­ner be­ing an­nounced at the end of the sea­son.

Butkus has much to cel­e­brate. In De­cem­ber, he’ll earn hisMBA in busi­ness man­age­ment.

Hewould like to coach high school foot­ball down the road.

“Foot­ball has given a lot to me,” Butkus said. “An ed­u­ca­tion, great friends and life lessons.”

A life les­son that­may lead to a na­tional honor.

JOHN PATSCH/ST. FRAN­CIS ATHLETICS

St. Fran­cis quar­ter­back Don Butkus was nom­i­nated Tues­day for the Mayo Clinic Come­back Player of the Year Award.

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