Ann Arbor — Jake Butt remembers the stadium going “dead quiet.” He knew immediately what had happened.
Uncomfortable with the attention he was receiving at that moment, Butt wanted to get to the locker room as quickly as possible. Butt walked back to cheers from the crowd, and he began to jog. Once in the locker room and after it was made clear to him he would not be returning to the game, things became briefly unsettled.
This was Butt’s second torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during his college career — the first also included a meniscal tear — but this came in his final game at Michigan during the Orange Bowl late last year, just as he was about to embark on training for the NFL Draft.
“There was a bunch of panic,” Butt said last Friday after Michigan’s Pro Day. “My mind was racing at that point. That happened for about 10 minutes. I kind of wrote down all my thoughts about what I needed to do.
“I asked for a piece of paper and pen and wrote down everything I needed to do, prayed, talked to my family, and it was OK. It was on to the next thing, hoping the team won and after that attacking everything else.”
After the game, he wrote on Twitter that he had no regrets for playing. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey opted not to play in their bowl games so they could begin training for the draft.
“I play this game because I love it, my teammates and coaches,” Butt wrote.
Butt, a co-captain last season, has always seemed to have the gift of perspective, although he admitted it took some time to understand there’s no reason to get lost in anger or tied up in pity when things happen out of his control. His approach is how do you move past whatever the issue may be and come back better?
Butt and Kody Kasey have been friends since kindergarten. They played football together through the years and at Pickerington North High near Columbus. Butt has drawn a great deal of inspiration from Kasey.
Former UM TE Jake Butt on NFL inquiring about his ACL injury.
Kasey, a defensive back and kick returner at Georgetown (Ky.) College, broke his right leg during a game in the fall of 2014. A rod was inserted into the leg for stability but after six months, the bones were not growing. Infection had set in.
After nine surgeries, Kasey’s leg was amputated below the knee just more than a year after the injury. Two months later, he was on a prosthetic blade and played last fall.
During Butt’s junior year, he wrote Kasey’s name on his wrist before games.
“Because I was going to play for him and now, sure enough, how can I feel down about myself when that guy has overcome that and changed so many lives?” Butt said.
Kasey’s journey gave Butt added motivation to rebound after his second ACL.
“It’s like the biggest joy to see how my struggle and journey can impact lives for the better, especially one of my close friends,” Kasey said by phone Saturday after Georgetown’s first spring practice. “It brings joy to my heart. Jake’s always had a positive attitude.
"Anybody at first when they face something tragic, the initial feeling is you’re going to feel down. Jake never stops. He’s an energizer bunny. That man goes. One of the hardest working guys I’ve ever known. Whenever I talked to him he’s always in a good mood, good vibes. That’s very healthy. I’ve never known Jake to be down. He’s a good soul, and he’s very optimistic.”
Kasey will speak to groups about his journey and Butt attended his last gathering at a church back home. Both rely on their faith.
“I tell people I have no limitations, the only limit is what God puts on me,” Kasey said. “During this whole process, my power came from my faith in God. My faith grew a lot. I felt confident through it all because I knew God had a plan. It was opening a new door for something greater.
“It led to a tough decision to get my leg amputated. You don’t want to think about that as a young age. Today, I’m still able to walk and run and do everything I was able to do.”
Butt knows that a second torn ACL and the timing of the most recent injury will affect his draft stock — “I can put two and two together. It’s probably going to hurt me a little bit,” he said — but hasn’t let that defeat him because of how Kasey has dealt with his situation.
Butt will have a quicker recovery than his first knee injury in the spring of 2014 because this time there was no meniscus tear, which delayed weight bearing on the leg several weeks. Butt said he could be cleared as early as six months, by July 10, or as late as nine months, so he could potentially be ready for training camp.
“The way I’m attacking it, I’m going to be ready whenever that time comes to be cleared. I’ll be ready,” Butt said. “None of the (NFL) teams were in the locker room and they can ask around the coaches how I handle adversity. I’d be happy for them to ask any of my teammates.
“Some teams saw what I tweeted after the game, some talked to me about it and they’re really happy with it — that’s the kind of guy we want, a guy who is proud to play football.”