Dec. 28, 2016
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Harrison Butker didn’t show up on The Flats to be in this conversation, but now that he’ll have a chance in his last game to become Georgia Tech’s all-time leading scorer — so long as he gets at least one chance to aim between the uprights Saturday against Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl — you bet he’s thinking about it.
His last PAT in Athens last month closed the scoring in the Yellow Jackets’ stirring 28-27 come-from-behind win at Georgia and gave Tech’s kicker 322 career points — the same number that kicker Luke Manget compiled from 1999-2002.
Head coach Paul Johnson is well aware. He’s not especially fond of field goals, often choosing to go for it on fourth down in favor of scoring touchdowns. “I was joking with [Butker], and told him we’re going for two every time,” he said.
It doesn’t take much to make Butker smile. Sometimes, maybe it’s a nervous grin for Tech’s tri-captain. “He said that at the banquet,” he said when asked about Johnson’s suggestion. “But I think he’s joking . . . hopefully.”
One way or another, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior Decatur who has been Georgia Tech’s kicker in every game of his career is likely to get a shot. The Jackets score touchdowns frequently and Johnson typically opts for the kick rather than two. That’s how Butker’s become the school’s all-time leading PAT kicker with 205.
With just one more, or a field goal, he’ll be alone atop the scoring list, too.
“It’ll mean a lot,” Butker said. “That record shows that somebody did their job and kept their head down and was there for however long they were. Personally, I wasn’t focused on accolades so the fact that I’m going to get this award was pretty crazy to me. I didn’t come into Tech thinking about breaking records.
“I wasn’t thinking about breaking the career scoring record. It was a surprise to me but I’d like to think that I just kept my head down and kicked the ball and you all tell me about the records.”
Butker didn’t play football until he was a sophomore at the Westminster School. An outstanding soccer player and a fine basketball player for the Wildcats, he was a quick study, yet not to the point where he would go to college with records in mind.
“I went to a camp at the end of my sophomore year. It was pretty amazing to see that there were more kickers in Georgia than just five or six or 10,” he recalled. “I did it my junior year just to be on the team because it was fun, and then I had a good year and I realized I was pretty decent.
“It was weird to see that there were so many kickers because I thought it was not a real position.”
Earning all-state honors as a junior and a senior, Butker left Westminster with school records for longest field goal (53 yards) and most made in a season (16-of-17 as a junior).
After earning All-America honors as a senior, his college choice was easy.
“I was a big Georgia Tech basketball fan, especially in 2004 when they were playing UConn in the national championship game,” he said. “Everybody in my school was a Georgia fan. There were a couple Georgia Tech fans and I figured I might as well be a Georgia Tech fan just to be a little different.
“Obviously, beating Georgia two out of four years has been a lot of fun.”
In fact, choosing Butker’s biggest field goal is easy, too.
He snuck a 53-yarder over the crossbar as time expired in Athens in 2014 to force overtime, where Tech beat the Bulldogs.
There have been others, like his 24-yard game winner as time expired at Virginia Tech earlier that season. He scored 98 points in `14, second-most in school history, as the Jackets went to the ACC championship game and beat Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.
Tying his career high this season with 11 field goals in 13 tries, Butker doesn’t try as many as a lot of kickers because of Johnson’s gusto. For his career at Tech, he’s made 39-of-56. He doesn’t seem to mind.
“It’s a lot of extra points and a lot of kickoffs,” he said. “In the Orange Bowl year, I didn’t have a lot of field goal attempts (11-of-18), but we were winning. I love Georgia Tech . . . Tech’s got so much other stuff that you shouldn’t worry about how many attempts you’re going to get as a kicker.
“I’d rather be a part of the team, a team that’s winning that has good chemistry than just focusing on how many attempts I can get.”
Johnson appreciates Butker’s approach and he sure doesn’t mind that 47 of his 64 traditional kickoffs this season have been touchbacks (and only five of those returned have come out past the 25-yard line). Not bad for an industrial engineering major.
“He’s a very talented young man and he comes from a really stable family,” the coach said. “He’s probably done about what I thought he’d have done. Now, if you asked me if he’d be the all-time leading scorer, I wouldn’t have known, but historically . . . our guys have scored a lot of points. This year’s been way more consistent for him.”
It would have been great to be selected for a postseason all-star game, yet Butker — who was named honorable mention all-ACC — won’t need that to take a shot at the next level.
“I like being kind of an underdog. I think a lot of the guys, a lot of the analysts and scouts and stuff are looking at the field goal attempts,” he said. “A lot of people are getting 25-30 attempts per season. I can just do my best for the amount of attempts I get.
“I’ll definitely try for the NFL,” he explained. “Anything that I’ve done, I’ve tried to be the best at.”
First, he’ll play one last time for the Jackets and go for a win and a record.
“I’ll enjoy it,” Butker said. “Obviously, it’s the last game wearing the white and gold, last game for Georgia Tech, and we’re playing another SEC team, so that will be fun. We’re definitely looking forward to it. These are my last practices coming up. It went by fast and I’ll try to soak it all up.”