He was a little-known recruit out of Coral Springs Charter, shunned by Florida's major football programs. Now, after four years at Connecticut, Darius Butler is an unknown no more.
The UConn senior is projected as a possible first-day pick at cornerback in next weekend's NFL Draft.
Scouts Inc. rates Butler the fourth-best cornerback prospect but says he has the best feet in the class. His performance at the NFL Combine in February -- 4.41 40-yard dash and 43-inch vertical leap -- boosted his stock.Professional football is in Butler's blood. His cousin, former Miami tailback Willis McGahee, plays for the Ravens. His uncle, Gene Atkins, also played in the NFL.
Coming from a high school that rarely fields a competitive football team, Butler was a diamond in the rough.
"He had a lot of peer pressure that you need to go to a bigger school," says his former coach, Mike Higgins. "Even with all the peer pressure, he started at our school and he had made up his mind he was going to graduate there."
Butler had success as a quarterback in high school, but his athletic ability made cornerback a better fit at the next level. The problem?
"I went to a small school," says Butler. "[Charter] was a brand new school, so football really wasn't much of anything. I was the first athlete to go D-I from there."
While the big Florida programs paid no attention, Connecticut coach Randy Edsall couldn't look away.
"UConn was the first one that really took an interest in him, and they were with him from the spring all the way through the end," says Higgins.
"Some of the schools said they'd like to see him a little taller. But what they didn't take into account was his jumping ability. So about a week before recruiting day, we put together a 5-minute video of Darius' dunks. His first dunk, he kind of looked like Michael Jordan. All of the sudden he heard from everywhere."
But Butler took the road less traveled, choosing a UConn program that was new to Division I-A and the Big East Conference.
"The fact that he chose UConn shows his true character," says Higgins. "[It was] for the same reason he stayed at the Charter school when he was approached by some of the bigger schools. He's that type of kid."
Butler is proof that if you're good, you'll get noticed. He hopes the hometown Dolphins, having lost Renaldo Hill and André Goodman to free agency, will take notice next.
"Miami would probably be my number one choice," says Butler. "I'm so close to home, I grew up there and spent all my life there. And they've shown a lot of interest."
Scouts have predicted that Butler's athletic ability is well-suited to a kick returner role in the NFL, and the Dolphins do value players who can contribute on special teams. Butler's versatility will boost his stock, but teams still value him most as a cornerback.
Regardless of where Butler plays in the pros, Higgins expects a lot from his former quarterback.
"I see Darius being a student of the game, putting in all the extra time doing film work. Nothing would surprise me with Darius."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun