• 82°

Christmas hopes to follow Butler’s path to the NFL

Thursday is a big day on the NFL calendar. It’s the first round of the NFL Draft, when teams plot their course for the next couple of years and players see dreams come true.

The draft continues through Saturday, with seven rounds and 254 players selected and guaranteed an opportunity in the league. After it’s over, dozens of other players who were not picked will be signed to free agent contracts.

One of those might be from Vicksburg.

Grambling linebacker De’Arius Christmas, a former Warren Central star, is one of the best football players to come out of Warren County in recent years. He’s a two-time Southwestern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and helped Grambling win two conference titles.

Christmas is what we think of when the term “student-athlete” is thrown around. He was honored by the National Football Foundation as one of 13 National Scholar-Athletes and will graduate next month with a degree in Engineering Technology.

He’s everything you’d want in a football player, except for about three inches and 25 pounds. He’s undersized by NFL standards and is hoping to get a look with a pro team.

“I know I’m not getting drafted. Just hoping for a call afterward,” Christmas said earlier this week.

Although he’ll have to take the long, hard road to the NFL as an undrafted free agent, Christmas doesn’t have to look far to see it can be done.

On the same day Christmas begins a long weekend that will determine his immediate future, and NFL teams start the draft, registration will begin for the fifth annual Malcolm Butler Football Camp.

Butler, of course, is the former Vicksburg High star who rocketed to stardom with the New England Patriots after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2014. Like Christmas, he has an incredible work ethic that allowed him to overcome some of the built-in disadvantages of playing at a small college (Division II West Alabama).

Five years later, Butler is a starting cornerback with the Tennessee Titans with a $60 million free agent contract in the bank. His camp — online registration is available at malcolmbutlerfootballcamp.org — is free and nearly 500 children are expected to attend when it’s held in July.

Butler’s camp is intended, in part, to inspire and remind kids in Vicksburg that they can overcome humble beginnings and achieve their dreams. This time of year, it can do the same for aspiring NFL players everywhere.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor at The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

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 sports reporters in the paper's 137-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.

email author More by Ernest