No ifs, ands or buts for Don Butkus
Mount Carmel grad earns nomination for Mayo Clinic comeback player award
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.
St. Francis quarterback Don Butkus was nominated Tuesday for the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award.