Sept. 21, 2016
Andy Demetra | Inside the Chart
– Harrison Butker still has the picture that foreshadowed his future career on The Flats – even if he didn’t realize it at the time.
“I just saw this recently,” the senior from placekicker from Decatur, Ga., recalled. “I’m a little kid. I’m wearing a Tech sweatshirt, and I’m in Cold Stone Creamery, and I took a picture with [former New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts kicker] Adam Vinatieri.
“I didn’t really think I would ever become a kicker, so I didn’t ever really watch football or watch the kickers. But it’s funny that I got that picture with Adam Vinatieri.”
Forgive Butker, for it happened a long time ago: as the picture shows, he wasn’t wearing a Georgia Tech sweatshirt but a gold Gap shirt. And the NFL kicker was Jay Feely, then of the Atlanta Falcons. Either way, Butker has grown into the Yellow Jackets’ version of Vinatieri or Feely: a clutch, consistent veteran who has made special teams a bona fide weapon on The Flats.
His respect goes beyond the field too: last week the Yellow Jackets voted Butker one of their three team captains, making him the first special-teamer since punter Jason Bender in 1994 to earn such an honor. “When Coach Johnson told us after practice I was very humbled by it. It’s still soaking in to me, thinking about the tradition of Georgia Tech football,” Butker said.
Kickers and punters often get a bad rap as the skinny eccentrics practicing off to the side, never making or taking a hit, barely looking like the rest of their teammates. So how did Butker command so much respect in the locker room that his peers voted him captain?
On-field performance certainly helps. Yellow Jacket fans will always remember his 53-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime against Georgia in 2014. But Butker also took on an increased leadership role this offseason when the Jackets were divided into eight teams for a wide-ranging, off-the-field competition. The teams were awarded points based on a variety of factors like bonuses for community service or deductions for missing class. Butker’s team, with him serving as captain, won.
In addition to being a fixture at the Jackets’ weightlifting and conditioning sessions, Butker says he has also tried to be a resource to the team’s underclassmen.
“Mentoring some of the younger guys, and just being there and trying to help them out with anything they had questions about,” he said.
Not bad for someone who played soccer and basketball growing up and didn’t don a football helmet until his sophomore year at Westminster High School. Now a four-year starter at Tech, Butker enters this week’s game against No. 3 Clemson (7:30 p.m. EDT, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network) needing 58 points to break Luke Manget’s school record for career points.
His chase hasn’t exactly been a high-speed one. Through three games, Butker has only attempted two field goals, a 40-yarder against Boston College and a 41-yarder against Vanderbilt (he’s made them both). Georgia Tech ranks 107th in the nation in field goal attempts.
Butker opts for diplomacy over frustration.
“I think as a field goal kicker, you love to get on the field, but obviously I want the team to win and I want us to score touchdowns,” he said.
He has still made plenty of impact in his other specialty. Butker’s first 10 kickoffs sailed into the end zone for touchbacks, the second-longest streak to start the year in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Butker says he owes some of that efficiency to his dad, Harrison, a computer programmer at SunTrust.
“It’s kind of a ritual on Sunday. I’ll go home and we’ll kind of re-watch the kickoffs and time them and get the distance and all that. He has an Excel spreadsheet he’ll put them in. It’s kind of a fun tradition we have going on,” said Butker.
The data suggests Butker will continue to climb the Yellow Jackets’ scoring lists. With the third-ranked Tigers rolling in to Bobby Dodd on Thursday, he’s already shown a knack for making clutch kicks in big games. When the season ends, Butker says he’ll train for Georgia Tech’s Pro Day while continuing to work toward his degree (he’s on pace to graduate in May). He then hopes to join his good friend and training partner Wil Lutz, a former Georgia State kicker, in the NFL.
Maybe a young fan at an ice cream shop will ask for his picture.