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Cal U's Butler finds CFL home

| Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If Gary Butler never plays in the NFL, it's OK.

Sort of.

A long career in the Canadian Football League would be just fine.

Sort of.

Anything but construction will work.

Butler's father runs such a business in Pittsburgh, but Butler, a Langley product and former NCAA Division II All-Region player at California University, says his days of working there are through.

"I've done enough of that already. I don't plan on working construction again," he said.

For now, it's football after college, even if it comes nearly two years after his eligibility was up at California in 2007-08.

But the CFL?

"When I got to training camp, it hit me," he said. "Everybody in the Pittsburgh area takes this league for granted. They downplay the talent. But we just don't understand what goes on here."

Instead of his dad employing him, Butler is working for the British Columbia Lions as a platoon player at right defensive end, sharing time with veteran Ricky Foley through the team's first three games (1-2).

They're trying to fill the gaping hole left by the departure of all-league player Cam Wake, who signed with the Miami Dolphins.

Three games into his first CFL season, Butler is predicting he'll sharpen his game enough to take over as a full-time starter before long.

"You're told certain things when you come here, and I expected to start right away," he said. "Don't get me wrong about this: Being in the position I'm in now is a great thing. If you think about it, I'm a part of 85 guys on this team getting paid to do a job.

"But to be part of a defense, I just feel you have to start."

Although Butler worked construction at his dad's place while attending California, he didn't envision staying there. His dad probably didn't, either, closing his shop one day soon after his son had graduated from Langley in 2004 to take him on a recruiting trip to California.

Butler excelled at linebacker in college, helping California to the first of two consecutive trips to the Division II semifinals in 2007-08, when he earned Western Division Defensive Player of the Year in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference with 69 tackles, 12 sacks and four forced fumbles.

The switch to defensive end in the CFL has been a challenging adjustment for Butler. But it's not the only thing that has changed.

Not only are defensive linemen in the league required to set up a yard behind the line of scrimmage, but they must contend with what Butler described as "holding" by the offense on nearly every play.

"It's an offensive league," he said. "I didn't know we had to line up a yard off the ball. My job is to get to the quarterback. That makes a big difference."

British Columbia coach Wally Buono has exhibited faith in Butler's perceived abilities, keeping him on the roster to start the season in favor of veteran Caesar Rayford, who was cut loose.

"He needs to be re-programmed, but you can see where he gives you that toughness and speed," Buono told the Vancouver Province in a recent article featuring Butler.

After a failed tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles, who released the 6-2, 235-pound Butler, he signed a free-agent deal with British Columbia, Vancouver's CFL franchise, earlier this year.

"Coming here wasn't the most exciting thing for me. I felt it was almost like I was taking a step back to go forward," Butler said. "But you can make a great life up here. If I played here seven or eight years, took care of my money the right way, I might not have to work another day in my life."

The linebacker-turned-defensive end is finding a different scene, though, full of much uncertainty for a Western Pennsylvania native with a thick Pittsburgh twang.

"There's a lot to learn," Butler said. "It's all new to me. Even the money's different over here."

So is the football.

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