Butler’s next play is to build on success

Published 12:58 am Sunday, February 22, 2015

New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, a Vicksburg native, speaks at a press conference Saturday at the Vicksburg Convention Center. (Paul Barry/The Vicksburg Poat)

New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, a Vicksburg native, speaks at a press conference Saturday at the Vicksburg Convention Center. (Paul Barry/The Vicksburg Poat)

Malcolm Butler sat in front of a podium inside the Vicksburg Convention Center Saturday and preached the testament of an undrafted rookie free agent.

He talked of the long road players like him face, one lined with potholes and detours and plenty of exit signs for those who realize they can’t make it.

It’s a path to the NFL that players before him have taken successfully, with many more never reaching the final destination.

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“You’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to care about nothing else but making this team and getting this shot,” Butler said. “You’ve got to be humble. You’ve got to go out there with your hair on fire.”

So now, just weeks after hauling in the interception that handed the New England Patriots yet another Lombardi Trophy, Butler is trying to reignite his hair to make sure he doesn’t flame out.

The same guy endearingly referred to as “Scraps” by his teammates because he’s always scrapping for the ball will now have to reapply all the same traits that put him in the position he’s in today to help solidify his roster spot in 2015.

Butler is touted for having keen football instincts and a quick first step, which helped him both clamp down a spot on the Patriots’ final roster and make one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history when he intercepted Russell Wilson on the 1-yard line to secure New England’s 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

He recognized almost immediately the pick play the Seahawks were about to run and ran to tell fellow defensive back Brandon Browner about it before the snap.

“I said, ‘get (the receiver) good’ because I knew they were trying to pick us,” Butler said. “I said, ‘get a good jam on him’, which he did. I give him a lot of credit for that. I got around him.”

That kind of savvy is what endeared Butler to New England’s coaching staff, and it’s something he’s going to have to continue to have if he wants to keep from being a one-hit wonder. Butler espouses the virtue of hard work almost on command, mainly because he knows how much it took to put him on an NFL roster last season.

Butler made the team as an undrafted free agent from Division II West Alabama.

“You’ve got to play hard. You can’t back down from nobody, no matter if they’re making $2 million, $3 million. It doesn’t matter,” Butler said. “You’re human just like me. Just play ball. Just go out there and do your best. That’s all that matters.”

But the Vicksburg native can no longer hide in the shadows and quietly go to work. Gone are the days when his interviews are scarcer than his playing time. In the past month alone, Butler has been to Disneyland, the Grammys and two enormous parades — one entirely in his honor on Saturday.

The attention of his NFL career has drastically changed. The way he approaches it, however, hasn’t.

“NFL stands for ‘Not For Long.’ You’ve got rookies coming in here ready to take your job,” he said. “There’s a Malcolm Butler somewhere coming in this league this year, not to say I’m any good or anything. You can’t go off the past. You’ve got to live off what you do now. You’ve got to get better and better. You can’t get complacent.”

It’s something easy to say and much harder to do. The same chip that weighed his shoulder down as he watched the seventh round of the NFL draft come and go without hearing his name called is slowly whittled down with each congressman lavishing praise on him and each small child calling him their hero. His training camp motivation is no longer trying to make it. He’s now trying to keep it from going away.

“I’ve seen people come and go. Great guys,” he said. “I won’t say a name, but (the Patriots cut) a guy that I didn’t expect to leave. That let me know. No one is safe.”

So Saturday, while he stood atop a float decorated with his jersey number and waved to thousands of people on streets he remembers walking as a kid, Butler realized the surreal nature of it all.

“It was a great feeling just like it was in Boston, but it feels even better when you’re in your hometown and you know all the people around you,” he said. “That makes it more special.”

His humbleness, tenacious work ethic and football acumen all helped propel him to that spot atop his own float in his own hometown. They’re also what keep driving him into the offseason as he looks to stick around in the NFL as more than just a novelty or down-the-road trivia question.

“Anybody that’s doing well, another person wants to come in and take that away from you or prove that it’s not what it was,” Butler said. “I know receivers are going to try and come at me saying, ‘you’re lucky’ or whatever. I’m going to be ready anyway. Like I’ve said before, that one play is not going to define me.”