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Football fun again at Butler after trip to playoffs

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Butler football captain Jake Hays works out at camp Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in Butler.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Butler's Robert Burdine worksout Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in Butler.

A year ago, the Butler football team spent its summer conditioning workouts under the gloomy specter of a 27-game conference losing streak.

This year, the Golden Tornado were dancing for joy. Literally.

During a late-July involuntary team workout about two weeks prior to the opening of camp, the sound system blared coach Clyde Conti's preferred 1960s Motown.

“We all were dancing on the field,” Tornado captain Jake Hays said. “We were all out for conditioning, and someone had the radio on so all of a sudden we went from working out to all dancing at one point.”

Coming off its first WPIAL playoff appearance in 14 years, Butler is hoping to continue its ascension upward in season No. 3 of the Conti era.

After years of bottom-feeding in WPIAL Class AAAA, football is fun again at Butler.

“Definitely, this is a whole new type of feeling,” said Hays, an all-conference defensive linemen last year who will play on both sides of the ball. “We're much more excited and having a lot more fun playing on the football team now than in years past.”

But can the heady times continue? Hays being one of the few exceptions, the Tornado return precious little experience from last season's team that finished the regular season 4-5. A loss in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs to Mt. Lebanon did little to dampen the enthusiasm garnered by winning three conference games.

When Butler beat Shaler, 60-26, on Sept. 7, it was its first conference victory since 2006, a span of 28 straight losses. The Tornado won three of their next five.

“It's a totally different mindset now,” Hays said. “You can definitely tell in all the kids how they work a lot harder now that they know we can go to playoffs. There wasn't any payoff before; now we know we can make the playoffs — and even have a nice playoff run this year.”

To do so, Butler will need solid and steady contributions from a leadership core that includes Hays, junior running back Robert Burdine, junior lineman Eric Hindman and senior lineman Chris Smith.

To illustrate just how inexperienced Butler is, only Hays and Hindman were starters for all of last season. The Tornado lost an all-conference lineman, their quarterback, top five leading rushers, top receiver and four starting linemen to graduation.

“I don't want to say we're starting over, but we're playing a lot of inexperienced, young kids this year,” Conti said. “After last year, myself personally, I'd like to set the bar high — but we also want to set realistic-type goals.”

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