Aug. 2, 2010
By Jon Cooper
The term “fashionably late” isn’t in Mario Butler’s vocabulary.
As far as the senior cornerback is concerned, anything but early is very much out of fashion.
“It’s a habit of mine. It’s how I was raised,” said the Jacksonville, Fla., native, a middle child of six. “I like to get to everything early, even when I’m going to appointments. I like to get there 10 to 15 minutes early, check out the scenery. That has helped me in the classroom also, getting there early, meeting the teachers, things like that. I think it’s something that will help me later on in life also.”
Being early has had the occasional drawback. Butler recalled once arriving so early to class for an exam that he didn’t receive a last-minute e-mail from his professor saying that class had been postponed. He wound up sitting by himself in the lecture hall for about 15 minutes.
But that is the exception to the rule and hasn’t altered Butler’s commitment to early arrival.
That eagerness to being first on the scene will be encouraged by Georgia Tech’s new Defensive Coordinator Al Groh in Tech’s new 3-4 Defense, where said destination will often be the opposing backfield.
“We’re going to be attacking this year, sending people on blitzes and stuff,” said Butler, who finished third on the team and topped the secondary with 4.5 tackles-for-loss last season and is the third-leading returning tackler (45 tackles, 33 solo, only Jerrard Tarrant with 58 had more among members of the secondary). “I think last year we probably sat back a little bit and it made us vulnerable to the pass a little bit more. This year we’re more aggressive. It’s just a whole mentality on the defense. Since Coach Groh came in, everybody’s extra excited ready to get working. It’s felt like a whole new look to the defense.”
While much of the focus defensively has been on stopping the run, there is room for improvement against the pass. In 2009, the Jackets ranked seventh in the ACC in pass defense (215.9 yards per game) but ninth in pass efficiency (124.5). There also was a tendency to surrender the big play via the air, as opponents scored on nine pass plays of at least 20 yards, including strikes of 40 (twice), 63, 69, and 77 yards.
“I think last year we gave up too many points,” said Butler, referring to Tech’s 20.8 ppg, fifth in the conference. “This year we want to stop the run and not be so vulnerable against the deep passes. That’s something Coach Groh preaches, don’t give up the deep balls. That’s one thing we’ve really been focusing on in the spring and summer time, in those seven-on-sevens.”
Groh’s personality also will factor in, as he keeps the players’ spirits high.
“Coach Groh, he’s a fiery guy. He motivates you on the sideline. He’s jumping up with you. He encourages you to have fun, more fun than we’ve usually been having. Just let yourself be free and play football and everything else is going to fall into place. That’s one thing I really like about him.”
Butler, who brings a team-leading streak of 27 starts into 2010, also relishes his role as a senior leader, a role made important with the departures of All-American defensive end Derrick Morgan, All-ACC safety Morgan Burnett and starting inside linebacker Sedric Griffin.
“The guys that we lost were tremendous players but each year it’s a new team so we’re going to find somebody else that is going to be able to lead,” Butler said. “As an older guy, I know what it takes.
“My individual goal is to stay consistent. If I stay consistent in everything I do, the goals that are set out there for me will eventually happen. Just staying consistent will help out everything.”