Liberty’s football team knows it’s in good hands with McClain Butler commanding the Lions on defense.
Butler, a senior linebacker, said he has always been the hardest hitter on any football team he ever played for growing up. He played defensive line on his Little League football team, and said he thought he would have played the same position in high school.
He was first exposed to the linebacker position as a freshman on the Lions’ junior varsity team, and said he didn’t like it at first. He continued to improve as the season progressed, and was pulled up to the varsity team about halfway through the year. The Lions were in good shape at linebacker with former Times first-team all-countians Spencer Kirin, who led the team with 96 tackles in 2016, and Corey Luthe, who collected 50.5 tackles.
Butler waited his turn, and soon emerged as the “king” of the Lions’ defense.
“That was a huge learning opportunity for me because our defensive coordinator taught me everything I need to know about playing linebacker,” Butler said. “The huge turning point was when I was told my sophomore year that I was starting [at] middle linebacker on varsity and I couldn’t believe it, but everything has worked out well since then.”
Butler is a two-time Times first-team all-countian, and led the county in tackles as a sophomore and junior — he compiled 91 in 2017 and 123 in 2018. He leads the county with 125 tackles through eight games this fall.
“I call the plays, I know where everyone is supposed to be, so I have a lot of faith in my coach, Coach Will [Bristol], he tells me what to do,” Butler said. “I do it to the best of my ability, and it’s worked out over the past two years so that’s a big plus for us having a coach like him on our team.”
Liberty coach Larry Luthe said Butler is a special athlete because he refuses to wait for anyone, and will do whatever it takes to get to the football. His role employs him to read the opponent’s plays quickly, and communicate that to his defense.
If anything gets past the defensive line, nine times out of 10, Butler is there to make the tackle.
“I put all my trust in him, especially playing D-end,” Lions senior Peyton Scheufele said. “If it’s going to be a sweep or I have to get the outside … I know McClain’s going to be there and vice versa. If it goes inside and I go in, they can bounce it, and I know McClain’s going to be out there because he’s always making big plays.
"Just to have him behind us really clean things up to make big tackles, it’s comforting.”
“He makes our job easier, knowing that the middle’s always locked down,” Lions senior lineman Kyle Hutchinson added. “Then, we can just focus on the outside.”
Butler helped lead Liberty to its first 10-0 regular season in program history as a junior in 2018, and the Lions also captured the Carroll County Athletic League title. The team recorded five shutouts under Butler’s leadership, four against county opponents.
The Lions dropped their first two games of the 2019 season against Linganore and Walkersville, but won five straight prior to falling to Westminster in an overtime battle for the county title on Friday. The defense allowed just 45 points in those five games, and posted a 41-0 shutout over county foe South Carroll on Oct. 18.
Butler recorded 21.5 tackles in Friday’s loss against Westminster, according to Liberty’s team statistics.
“I think his motor is incredible, and you have to give some of that credit to Coach Bristol because he does a great job breaking things down and simplifying things for the kids,” Luthe said. “He really does a great job and has always put our linebackers in positions to make plays.
“McClain has taken every advantage of that and made some great plays for us and some big stops. He will definitely be missed next year, but we’re fortunate to have him for the rest of this year and hopefully we can get some extra games out of him, so we’re excited for that.”