Cody Butler wanted nothing more than to go away from Hughesville. Like any other 18-year-old, graduation from high school for Butler in 2011 meant freedom, a chance to see something new.
For Butler, something new was The College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. He was starting a new chapter in his life that included being a member of the Crusaders football team.
Then something happened Butler never could have expected. He got a little homesick. And even after starting four games as a true freshman for Holy Cross in their secondary, he decided he wanted to come closer to home.
Saturday was Butler's first official appearance in a Lycoming College football uniform. He found a perfect fit for himself in a school not too far from Hughesville so his parents can see him play, and with a football team which was looking for a safety after former All-American Ray Bierbach graduated.
"Family is a big part of my life, and this football team is family to me now," Butler said during Lycoming's annual media day at the newly turfed David Person Field. "Holy Cross was a great school and I got a lot of opportunities starting in four games. I just got homesick and decided to come back home. I chose a program with a lot of tradition and a lot of excellence."
Head coach Mike Clark and defensive coordinator Steve Wiser will be the beneficiaries of Butler's decision. A defensive unit that was ranked third in the country in yards per game a year ago, returns eight starters this year.
But one of the key missing pieces was Bierbach, a do-it-all kind of player who was a ball hawk defensively. He played the run like a linebacker, hit like a Mack truck, had moves like a Ferrari on a windy country road while returning punts, and was the linchpin to the kicking game as a holder for all-MAC kicker Zack Czap.
Butler plans on filling that hole. It'd be unfair to expect Butler, a sophomore, to do the things Bierbach did as a three-year starter immediately, but he's going to get the opportunity. He'll be used in the return game as well as at safety.
He adds more speed to an offense that has converted safeties playing linebacker, converted linebackers playing on the defensive line, and high school wide receivers and running backs playing in the secondary. Butler brings a level of speed that helped him scored 35 touchdowns and rush for more than 1,500 yards as a senior at Hughesville.
"It's a good fit," Clark said. "He's got a different skill set. Talent-wise, (Bierbach and Butler) are comparable, and Cody might have a little more ability. The thing that separated Ray from so many other guys is he is just so smart. He could make plays because he had great instinct and he put in a ton of time mentally. Cody has to continue to do that. But the expectations for him are very, very high."
Butler has a keen awareness of his place in the Warriors' defense. He understand he's just a cog that help makes the machine run. He just wants to fit in on a unit that was seventh in all of Division III football in points allowed.
When he came to Lycoming in the spring, he worked with Bierbach on the specifics of playing his safety position and what it takes to be successful. He knows that with a defensive front that features three multiple-year starters and a linebacking corps that features maybe the MAC's most athletic defensive player in Kabongo Bukasa, there's going to be opportunities to make big plays happen.
The key is to let those plays come to him.
"This defense has so many leaders, I'm just fitting in and being part of something that'sgreat," Butler said. "I'm just looking to fill my role and see where it goes from there. One of the biggest things is we can't be over-anxious and get out of position. Coach Wise always tells us the plays are going to come to us, so we're going to sit back and let the plays come to us because with this defensive line and linebackers and secondary, there's going to be opportunities for big plays."
Butler played in nine games for Holy Cross a year ago, making two tackles. He knew he was leaving a starting position when he chose to transfer from the FCS school in Worcester, Mass., but he saw he could be a part of something special in Lycoming and was up for the challenge.
He knew of the long-standing tradition of solid football with the Warriors, and he knew of Wiser, a 39 year veteran of the Lycoming staff, and the penchant he brings for having great defenses. For all the success Butler had as an offensive weapon in high school, there's a different bond among players on defense and it's something he wanted to be a part of.
"I'm excited to be a part of the team," Butler said. "Just the long-standing tradition of the defense and the coaching staff makes you feel at home."
Maybe it took a trip to Massachusetts to realize it, but home isn't as bad a place as Butler once thought.