Marshall football: Patience pays off for Butler
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall running back Steward Butler had to wait a little while for his first carry of the 2013 season. When it came, though, he took the jitters of anticipation and the frustrations of the preseason and used it as fuel to propel forward.
The result was the second 100-yard game of his young Thundering Herd career and the knowledge that he heeded the words of his coaches - when a player's number is called, he has to produce.
"I was going to make the most out of every (carry) I get," he said. "We've got special backs. All of us are special in our own different way. I just made the best of the carries I got and tried to help the team out anyway I could."
He hopes to keep that momentum going Saturday, when the Herd (1-0) hosts Gardner-Webb (1-0) at 6:30 p.m.
Butler, listed third on the depth chart heading into the Miami game, was the third running back to touch the ball against the RedHawks, behind Essray Taliaferro and Kevin Grooms. But he made an impact as soon as the ball touched his hands. Four of his first five carries went for six yards.
Despite not touching the ball until halfway through the second quarter, Butler carried the ball 17 times for 107 yards, a 6.3-yard-per-carry clip. In his second 100-yard rushing game of his career - following his 18-carry, 166-yard performance last season against Rice - he was never dropped behind the line of scrimmage.
"I give all the credit to the o-line," Butler said. "The o-line did a hell of a job. Coach Legg called the right plays at the right time, the o-line executed really good, and I just hit it."
It's not a performance, or a tenacity, that surprises receiver Tommy Shuler. He watches the 5-foot-9, 178-pound Lakeland, Fla., native every day and knows Butler is willing to explode into defenses.
"Stew always runs hard," Shuler said. "Stew will go out there and jump over three buildings if he has to. That's just Stew, and knowing when he gets in there and has a great game, it boosts his confidence. When him and Grooms and Tally get going, it's going to be a scary sight."
It's that frightening possibility that quarterback Rakeem Cato feels motivates Butler to excel. All four running backs - Taliaferro, Butler, Grooms and Remi Watson - have shown in games they are worthy of carrying the football. That leaves little opportunity for any of them to relax. The back who takes a play off might not find himself running many plays with the offense.
"We've got four guys in that room that all can play good, so when your number is called, you have to make the play," Cato said. "Whether you get one play, 50 plays or 90 plays, you have to take advantage of all the reps you have."
Butler wouldn't delve into his frustrations during the preseason, but he admitted there were tough days leading up to Marshall's season opener. Locked in competition with three other running backs - including the 2012 Conference USA freshman of the year and a veteran who broke the century mark against bowl-bound East Carolina - those feelings are understandable.
Rather than let those frustrations consume him, he used them to get better. And Offensive Coordinator Bill Legg said he's seen Butler improve over the month.
"The last three weeks, I've seen a little bit different Stew Butler," Legg said. "He's much more focused, much more determined, a much harder working guy, and really, it showed up on Saturday."
Butler plans on it showing up again against the Runnin' Bulldogs. He doesn't know if he'll take the lion's share of the carries. He knows he may not. But he's ready for whatever the offense needs him to do, and is happy to show his talents in whatever role is necessary.
"I love it," Butler said. "I love the game. I just like being around the game, period. And when my number's called, I've got to execute. I'm going to keep working hard. I'm not on vacation."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.