Spartans rally around Josh Butler in time of grief
East Lansing — Michigan State cornerback Josh Butler will be back with his team briefly this week, but the sophomore from Mesquite, Texas will head back home this weekend.
Butler learned on Saturday morning just hours before Michigan State would play Penn State that his father, Steven, had died unexpectedly. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said on Tuesday that Butler has been handling most of the arrangements.
“It's been difficult,” Dantonio said. “He is basically — he is the person that's sort of in charge, you know, going through the funeral home and doing the things that have to be done. Which you can imagine at that age, 20 years old, how difficult that must be.”
Butler, who will miss Saturday’s game at Ohio State, started against Penn State. He has seven tackles this season, including a half sack and two pass breakups.
On Sunday, Butler thanked Michigan State fans in a post on Twitter.
“Just want to thank my Spartan family for supporting me through this tough time in my life,” the post read. “I'm going to continue wearing the last name my father gave me proudly on my back! Thank y'all.”
Butler started a GoFundMe page on Monday to help cover the funeral costs, saying the family needed $5,000 by Friday. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than $8,300 had been raised.
Butler responded with another post on Twitter.
“Started this GoFundMe account to help pay for my dads funeral,” he said. “He didn't have any insurance so the cost was $5,000. With all the support from everyone & Spartan Nation y'all made it possible. I truly can't stop crying and thanking y'all for this!”
Dantonio said Butler has been holding up well.
“Josh is hanging in there,” Dantonio said. “I know he appreciates the outpouring of support from people across Spartan Nation. But he's OK. He's doing OK. I think it's a day-to-day thing for him, and obviously very, very difficult situation and our prayers are with him.”
Digging deep at tackle
With Gerald Owens unavailable against Penn State because of an undisclosed injury and Mike Panasiuk in and out with an injury he suffered early in the game Saturday, the Spartans were forced go down the depth chart at defensive tackle.
That meant the first significant action for sophomore Kyonta Stallworth and the first action of any kind for redshirt freshman Mufi Hill-Hunt.
“Kyonta played very well,” Dantonio said. “I think he had four tackles and maybe two assists, had 20-plus plays. But Kyonta was an outstanding defensive lineman in high school — offensive and defensive lineman in high school. He made the transition to defensive line and we've sort of been waiting for him to come on.”
Stallworth, a top recruit from Detroit Martin Luther King, hasn’t gotten much playing time after redshirting in 2015 then making the move from offense to defense in the spring of 2016. He appeared in just two games last season and was used sparingly until last Saturday.
Hill-Hunt has slowly worked his way back after suffering a knee injury during his LDS mission. He redshirted in 2016 and during preseason camp this year he moved from defensive end to tight end. He’s still trying to catch up after the recent shift back to defense.
“Well, we moved Mufi back from tight end back to the defensive line, so we didn't really expect him to play but he did,” Dantonio said. “I think he's got the athletic ability to play in there. He's a redshirt freshman and I think he's got to play better. He's got to get better. He's got to learn a little bit more what to do at the defensive tackle position. He went in there and gave us some snaps.
“He's very athletic. He needs to just learn it.”
Dantonio insisted he wasn’t paying attention to point spreads, some that have the Spartans as much as a 16-point underdog to the Buckeyes.
“I really think that that's for other people,” Dantonio said. “I watch film and I watch our players. I know we need to get better and we need to do some things better on the field. And I also watch film to see how people are playing, and we devise a plan to try and attack those things and be confident and make sure we play hard, and that's what we'll try and do.
“But I didn't know the spread. But there you go. We'll just have to roll the dice.”
For what it’s worth, since Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have three wins in the series by one point, 12 points and one point. Michigan State’s two wins have been by 10 and three points.