Vicksburg’s Butler rises up from obscurity

Published 12:07 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vicksburg High senior wide receiver Kareeme Butler has not played football since eighth grade, but is expected to play a major role in the offense this season. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Vicksburg High senior wide receiver Kareeme Butler has not played football since eighth grade, but is expected to play a major role in the offense this season. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Marcus Rogers had only been on the job as Vicksburg High’s football coach for a couple of weeks when he first spotted Kareeme Butler.

The 5-foot-11 senior was in the school’s gym playing basketball when he unleashed a monstrous dunk during a pick-up game. A few minutes later he broke off a 360-degree slam.

Rogers, who had been idly drawing up plays for spring practice, quickly put his pencil and paper down and started thinking up ways to use the guy he’s convinced will be the team’s breakout star this season.

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Butler hasn’t played football since eighth grade, but his size, hands and leaping ability make him a natural for the sport, Rogers said. Butler will play wide receiver this season and give the Gators a big-play threat.

“You’ll see it the first game. I’m not even going to tell you his number. You’re just going to see him rise up,” Rogers said, a smile beaming across his face. “He’s just a freak. He’s strong and he’s physical. When that ball is in the air, he just goes and gets it at the highest point. He’s a natural.”

Butler is the type of hidden gem Rogers hoped to unearth when he took over as Vicksburg’s head coach in March — a talented athlete who wasn’t playing any varsity sports. Butler played football and basketball in junior high, but not in high school. When Rogers saw him that day in the gym, he immediately began recruiting him. Butler came out for spring practice, and made an immediate impression.

“He’s running the hills and passing Paul Wilson. Paul is my hardest worker,” Rogers said, referring to the junior cornerback who is a three-year starter.

The strong showing continued throughout spring practice and seven-on-seven workouts in the summer. Despite not having played football in almost five years, Butler returned to it like he’d never left.

He said he wasn’t concerned about the physical nature of the game and adjusting to it after such a long layoff.

“I’m an athlete. I’m really not worried,” Butler said.

Butler’s biggest asset, coaches and teammates say, is his leaping ability. The ability to pull off dunks like the ones that caught Rogers’ eye makes Butler the perfect weapon for goal line situations. Just throw it up, and he can outleap anyone for a touchdown, quarterback Marquez Pickett said.

“He’s going to go get the ball for you, either way you throw it. You can throw it hard, or in front, he’s very sure,” Pickett said. “He’s got real high hopping ability. You give it to him on a jump ball and he’s going to go get it.”

Now Butler and the Gators have to see if the impressive camp work can translate into in-season success. Butler certainly is no stranger to great football. His uncle Malcolm, a former Vicksburg High star, is a rookie free agent cornerback in the New England Patriots camp.

“He’s my role model,” Kareeme Butler said.

Kareeme worked out a lot with his uncle in the spring, and the lessons seem to have paid off, Rogers said. He’s thrilled to have his new receiver in the fold.

“He just kept working out with us, and with Malcolm at the junior high. Finally he comes back and the whole month of June in seven-on-seven he turned it out,” Rogers said.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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