Butler looking forward, not back, as NFL season approaches

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2018

At the conclusion of his annual youth football camp last weekend, Malcolm Butler was joking around with a group of children when the questions came in rapid fire fashion. The same ones he’s been hearing since February. The same ones he’ll probably hear for at least a few more months, maybe forever.

“What happened at the Super Bowl?”

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Butler laughed them off, then brushed them aside a second time when a group of reporters asked again a couple of minutes later. He was clearly tired of hearing it, ready to move on now that he’s left the New England Patriots — following his infamous benching in their Super Bowl LII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles — and signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans.

“I just had a busload of kids right here that asked all your questions for you,” Butler laughed as he spoke with the media pack. “It’s just coach’s decision. I’m a Tennessee Titan. I’m glad to be a Tennessee Titan. I moved on and I’m pretty sure the New England Patriots have moved on, too. I’m a Tennessee Titan, and it’s just what it is.”

Butler signed a five-year, $61 million contract with the Titans in March. They’ll open training camp July 25 in Nashville, coming off a 9-7 finish last season and the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2008.

The cornerback’s signing was the team’s biggest offseason move as it looks to take the next step as one of the NFL’s up-and-coming teams. The Vicksburg native said he was disappointed about leaving New England, where he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and won two Super Bowls, but excited for a fresh start.

That was made clear at the camp, where calls of “Titan up!” rang through the air and the campers wore T-shirts with a Tennessee Titans theme rather than the Patriots-centric gear that had been present the first three years.

“I transitioned real fast and real smooth. It’s a business and a game I love at the same time. It was bittersweet, but I love the game of football,” Butler said. “This is my first time being on a different team. I just had to get with the program. It’s a business. It’s time to play football. I don’t worry about anything else.”

Before heading back to work, Butler took time to return home last week to host the fourth edition of his youth football camp at his alma mater Vicksburg High School. More than 400 people in grades 1-12 attended what has become one of the city’s big summer events.

Butler said hosting the camp was something he always wanted to do as a way to give back to his hometown.

“As a kid I always wanted to go to camps, but they were too far. Now that I’ve worked hard and accomplished my dreams, I can bring it to my town and you’re not only going to see me on TV but you’re going to see me in person,” Butler said. “It’s not about me anymore. I’ve got Super Bowl rings, I’ve made it to the NFL, I’ve got a big contract, what’s next? God told me it’s not about you anymore, it’s time for you to respond. So that’s what I’m doing.”

Butler didn’t just parachute in for the camp, either. He has spent several weeks in Vicksburg during this summer, visiting with family and friends before heading back to Nashville for the start of training camp and the rest of the season. He said he still enjoys the calming atmosphere and slow pace of his hometown.

“I’ve got family here and there’s no place like home. I was in Boston, Massachusetts and that’s pretty fast compared to Mississippi. When I want to calm my nerves and have free time, I come back and relax,” he said. “This is one of the last times I’ll be at home for a while because I’m about to go back to work. I just have a blast with my family. I spent time with my mother and grandmothers. I’ll always come home. Home is home, and I love it.”

Butler added that being an NFL star means it’s harder to blend in — not just in Vicksburg, but everywhere. Besides setting a good example in his hometown, he’s made a conscious effort to do it everywhere else to represent the city he loves.

“You do have a lot more responsibility. You’ve got people watching you. Everywhere I go, Vicksburg, Mississippi goes. I make a mistake, that’s Vicksburg, Mississippi’s Malcolm Butler,” Butler said. “I’ve got to carry myself in a great way, because it’s not about me. I’ve got people on my shoulders believing in me. I can’t let them down. I’ve got to have a positive image and do the right thing.”

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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