Ann Arbor — The superlatives are used liberally to describe Michigan tight end Jake Butt, and that’s not just among national college football analysts.
Butt’s name has appeared on multiple preseason All-America lists, and many consider him the best tight end in the country. Count Michigan’s coaching staff among them.
Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno leaned in and smiled when asked why all of them think Butt is the best tight end in the country.
“Because he’s like the mailman,” Drevno said. “He always delivers.”
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Butt briefly flirted after last season ended with the possibility of leaving Michigan for the NFL with a year of eligibility left. He didn’t debate that long and quickly announced he would remain with the Wolverines, hoping to deliver a Big Ten championship while ticking off school tight end records on his list.
He certainly could become Michigan’s multiple-record-setting tight end this fall. Butt, who had 51 catches for 654 yards and three touchdowns last season, is second on Michigan’s record list for receptions in a season, trailing Bennie Joppru who had 53 catches in 2002. Butt is fourth in career receptions by a tight end with 92, behind Jack Clancy’s 132 during his 1963-1966 career.
He is third in single-season receiving with 654 yards, not far from Devin Funchess’ record of 748 set in 2013. He is fifth in career receiving behind Clancy and is ninth in career receiving touchdowns by a tight end with seven — Jerame Tuman set the record with 15 from 1995-1998.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said it is impossible not to be impressed by Butt’s work ethic and enthusiasm for the game.
"From Day 1, Jake Butt has been A++ as a player and then I look out if you’re in a meeting or you’re in an install football meeting, and I see him on the edge of his seat,” Harbaugh said. “I see him gung-ho sit through a two-hour, three-hour meeting and he’s communicating with guys next to him, he’s telling people, he’s interpreting for younger guys, what they should do. He’s excited. He’s got pizzazz.
“He walks out of that meeting and he’s got a bounce in his step, he throws his uniform on, he’s out to the field. The hair on the back of his neck is standing up. He goes to hit a sled or goes through a blocking drill with just as much as excitement as he does when we go to the pass routes and the routes with the seven on seven. I think the world of him. I think he’s a tremendous football player. I always thought he was the most gung-ho guy we have on our team when it comes just to having joy for football. Football is not fun. Football is hard and rough and tough. You don’t play very many games. You’re lifting weights, you’re practicing, you’re conditioning it seems year around. To say Jake Butt is a football player, that’s the highest compliment I think I could receive or could give anybody. Jake Butt, football player.”
In his final season, Butt wants to be a leader, and not just for a room full of talented tight ends, including Ian Bunting and Tyrone Wheatley Jr., but he wants to be a leader of the whole team.
Michigan was 10-3 last season in Harbaugh’s first season, and the Wolverines are hoping to win their first Big Ten title since 2004. Butt sees himself and those in his class as laying the foundation for the future of the program after nearly a decade of disappointment.
What is Butt’s contribution? He answered quickly with one word when asked what he brings to the team.
“Leadership,” he said. “I want this to be a successful team this year, but I want it to be a successful program for many years after that. Leadership is important in that area.”
He also leads by teaching and by being that sort of extra coach among the players, particularly in his position group. Butt enjoys that aspect of being a senior in his continuing effort to leave Michigan a better program than when he arrived.
“He’s invaluable,” tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. “The amount of things he’s seen on a football field throughout his time here gives him a unique perspective. He has really studied very diligently and he’s also very football smart, so being able to take a younger guy and say, ‘OK, this is the way to look at this or this is a helpful hint to remember,’ he’s really great in that regard. Looking forward to seeing his involvement in that way this fall.”
There is a particular pride he has when it comes to Michigan’s tight ends, made more relevant in the offense under Harbaugh.
“We have a lot of talent in that tight end room,” Butt said. “We’ve probably got to be, I’m confident in saying we’re probably (got) the best tight end group, or most talented tight end group in the country. If we work hard, we can be. We’ve got a lot of talented guys.”
Michigan safety Dymonte Thomas this summer projected Butt as a first-round NFL selection and said Butt is deceptively fast.
“Jake has got strides,” Thomas said. “It’s not like he’s super fast, but he has long strides that make him fast. He’s really good with his double moves, and he’s really good at sticking, stopping and going. If you don’t slow him down, he will leave you.
“He’s sneaky fast.”
Butt laughed when he heard the description, and agreed with it. He is a film-study guy and has picked up various tips from watching NFL tight ends.
“I don’t think anyone would say I’m a blazer, but I think the big thing I know how to get open,” Butt said. “I know how to use my body. It’s been a good thing I came into school not the fastest, not the strongest, because I’ve learned a little bit of tricks of the trade on how to win with technique or everything like that.”
Butt has become so well-versed in the offense, he has become like the stage actor who knows everyone’s lines.
On nearly every play, he knows how all 11 pieces of the Michigan offense should move, and how it all should unfold.
“The mental part of the game makes me a good player,” Butt said. “I feel like I have a really good feel for the game. I feel like I’m football smart. I really take studying the playbook to heart. I know, maybe aside from five or six plays, I know what every receivers’ route is on every play, I know the O-line calls and assignments on almost every running play and most protections. Even this year I’ve tried to learn some of the quarterback’s reads just for the fun of it.
“You could be a great athlete, but if you don’t understand the offense, if you don’t understand the system, it won’t matter.”
Jake Butt: Football Player.