FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Defensive lineman Adam Butler is one of the youngest players on the New England Patriots’ roster at 23, but he carries himself with a veteran-type approach. It helps explain, in part, why he has been one of the team’s surprise contributors this season.
One example of Butler’s approach came in how he decided to sign with the Patriots after the disappointment of going undrafted.
“Before the draft was over, I had an offer from the Patriots and I said that if I didn’t get drafted I would take it,” Butler relayed. “I remember having a conversation with my parents — of course they were disappointed — and I told them, ‘We’re going to keep a positive attitude and I’m going to work just like I always have, and I promise you we’ll like the result.’”
Butler, it turned out, was true to his word to the Patriots even though other teams pursued him with offers after the draft.
“I had other offers, maybe with a little more money, but I could tell they were blowing smoke,” Butler said, before explaining why he felt the Patriots weren’t. “I sat down with Coach Belichick the night before pro day and I knew he was really interested. Of course, he was there to see Zach Cunningham too, but sitting there, I knew I would fit this system really good and knew I would have a legitimate chance here.”
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Butler has appeared in all eight games (five starts), playing 39.5 percent of the defensive snaps, while totaling 12 tackles and one sack. His approach has been acknowledged by Belichick.
“Smart kid, works hard, and has tried to improve in all the areas that we’ve asked him to. He’s really professional,” Belichick said.
With this as a springboard, Butler, a native of Duncanville, Texas, shares his “football journey” as part of ESPN.com’s weekly feature:
When he first started playing football: “When I was about 7 years old. My dad introduced me to it. I started out playing running back and was a kick returner; one play I’ll never forget, I ran a kickoff all the way back and my mom raced me down the sideline. Pretty awesome.”
Favorite teams and players growing up: “Probably the older Cowboys players: Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith. Half of my family liked the Cowboys, the other half didn’t, but I always loved them. When I got a little older, I loved Adrian Peterson. That was my guy. Then finally coming here and getting to play against him was something I’d never dream of. I thought he would have been retired.”
Role models growing up: “Both my parents and my grandparents, who are very wise. We have a big family and everyone rallies around them and what they have to say. I feel very lucky to have my dad [Clarence] in my life. He served 20-plus years in the Air Force, and I always thought that was amazing. He retired as a master sergeant.”
Favorite football memories at Duncanville (Texas) High School, where the furthest the team advanced was the third round of the playoffs: “Probably my first play of varsity. It was a wake-up call to how intense football was. I started out playing offensive line in high school, I was at guard, and the first play was a pass. I set, the linebacker blitzed and he gave me a good shot. I stumbled for a second and then regathered myself and figured it out quickly: ‘I have to bring it.’”
Choosing Vanderbilt University: “I didn’t take any official visits anywhere else. I took some unofficial visits — to North Texas, Oklahoma State — but that was pretty much it. After I took that official visit at Vandy, I was sold. Just the culture, and [then-head coach] James Franklin has a silver tongue too, selling the dream and everything. I knew I could maximize my academics and football — a degree from Vanderbilt speaks for itself, and the SEC is arguably the best conference, with a great opportunity to show what you can do.”
Playing offensive line initially at Vanderbilt: “I was a center, and had never played that position before getting there. That spring, after my first year, I transitioned to defensive line. We were short and I was viewed as the most athletic guy for the job. I took the opportunity and ran with it.”
Top football memories at Vanderbilt: “My first field goal block. There were some in high school, but I knew it would be tougher to get them in college and the first one went for a touchdown [by Steven Clarke, now in the CFL]. And the Florida game my senior year — two sacks, two TFLs [tackles for a loss].”
Preparing for the jump to the NFL: “I was really set on training for pro day; I wasn’t projected to be a top draft pick but I knew it was a possibility that I could get drafted and I held on to that chance, giving it everything I had. I figured if I just repeated the same process, I would get the same results.”
Explaining life as a Patriot: “Unreal. I’ve always dreamed as a kid of playing in the NFL, but I never thought it would actually happen. Being here on a defending Super Bowl team is crazy. Then to have a chance to start a few games, that’s even more. It’s been a very humbling experience.”
What he loves about football: “I would say it’s a parallel of the real world and life itself. Football teaches you how to be disciplined. It teaches you how to put an emphasis on being a good person away from the game as well. It teaches you how to be tough, how to push through when times get tough, and to rally around other people with the same goal. It goes with the saying ‘birds of a feather [flock]together.’”
Summing up his football journey: “It’s a love-hate relationship. Throughout my career, like many others, I’ve had tons of adversity. Sometimes the game treats me right; sometimes it doesn’t. That’s life. When I was in eighth grade, I had a tough time. It was so bad; in the middle of one game I took my pads off and walked to the locker room because I didn’t get to play. But because I loved it, I stuck with it.”
Keeping the bigger picture in mind: “One of the things I’d like to do when I’m done is speak to youth, provide motivation to them, let them know if they put their mind to it anything can be done. I have a humble heart and understand this is more than just a paycheck. People say to me all the time, especially my parents, ‘How many people would love to be where you are?’ Some of those people are children with illnesses, where even though they want to, they can’t. So if I don’t go out there every day and give it everything I’ve got, I’m not respecting them. I don’t take it for granted. I love this game, I really want to be here, and I don’t play just for myself. I play this for the children who can’t do it for themselves.”