Home Kam Butler, back for a third grad-senior season at Virginia, the ‘old man’ on the D line
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Kam Butler, back for a third grad-senior season at Virginia, the ‘old man’ on the D line

Chris Graham
kam butler
Photo: UVA Athletics

Kam Butler was having the makings of a career year in 2023, which is saying a lot, given that it was his sixth college season, and his third senior season, and second at Virginia.

Butler, a four-year contributor at defensive end at Miami (Ohio), transferred to Virginia in 2022 for his COVID redshirt season, then got an extra year after the NCAA granted all of UVA’s seniors an additional year of eligibility following the Nov. 13, 2022, shooting deaths of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, after which Virginia canceled its final two regular-season games.

Butler had recorded three sacks and 11 QB pressures in his first three games in 2023, before going down to injury – to his shoulder and pectoral muscle – in the NC State game in September.

The NCAA ultimately granted a medical redshirt for a pretty rare seventh season for Butler, who now answers to his teammates calling him “old man” and “grandpa,” among other allusions to his, ahem, advanced age.

“I’ve been riding with that,” Butler said after a recent spring practice. “I’m just happy to be here for another year. I mean, like I said earlier, I’m trying to play football as long as possible, so when the third year came up, it was kind of a no-brainer, honestly.”

His defensive-line coach, Chris Slade, an all-time great at Virginia who went on to a productive nine-year NFL career, has another nickname for Butler: “Coach Butler.”

“I think the biggest thing for Kam is, he’s selfless, you know, and he does a really good job of really helping in all areas. I call him Coach Butler, you know, I do, and he does a really good job, he makes me a better coach, he keeps me on my toes,” Slade said. “I think just having him around the young guys, in particular, you’ll see them all the time, I’ll make the young guys sit by Kam in the meetings, because Kam knows the defense inside-out, and he’s giving them tips, he’s giving them clues.”

Butler said the injury that put him on the shelf last September made him look at the game from a different perspective.

“I guess, throughout this whole process, like, I’ve kind of learned that, like, to be the best player, you got to know more than your position. Because like, last year, I knew what the whole D line was doing, but I didn’t know what the back-end guys were doing on some of the plays,” said Butler, who made it a point, during his recovery, to sit in with other position groups during their meetings, “to just listen to what they talk about and where they’re supposed to fit in route concepts and what the offense is trying to do.”

“I’ve really just tried to take the mental side of football, and play recognition and formation recognition, stuff like that, I’ve tried to take that to the next level this past offseason and throughout this time where I was injured,” Butler said.

Butler also put a renewed emphasis on diet, nutrition and conditioning.

“Before last season, I was at, I think I was at, like, 24 percent fat mass, or something like that. And it was so much better than what it was, I dropped 13 pounds of fat and put on like five pounds of muscle just in the last offseason winter workouts and spring ball,” Butler said.

Slade is looking forward to getting Butler back on the field in the fall.

“You can tell when he’s not on the field, you could tell last year once he got hurt after that NC State game, you could just tell the defense just wasn’t the same,” Slade said. “You know, some guys, they just have a presence about them, and you know, when they’re not there, and you know, present, and when he’s not present, you can just tell it’s a complete dropoff, not just productive, being a productive defense, but just the morale and just the atmosphere. He’s one of those guys who just kind of walks into the room and commands respect, and not in a bad way. He’s not a bully, but just that kind of guy.”

Focal point #1 for Slade, for Butler and the UVA D line: getting pressure on the QB.

The 2023 unit recorded just 11 sacks in 12 games, down significantly from the 30 sacks Virginia had in 10 games in 2022.

“I think with any good or above-average, great defense, you got disrupt the passer, you got to have some sort of pass rush,” Butler said. “I mean, all the good defenses I’ve been on, we’ve been at the top of the conference in sacks and run defense. So, I think those two are the biggest things that Coach Rud (defensive coordinator John Rudzinski) and Coach Slade and Coach Downing (Kevin Downing, the defensive-tackles coach), we’re all really hitting on the head this offseason, that we got to get better in these areas if we want to be where we were two years ago, and ultimately we want to be better than that, right. So, to get to where we want to be, we got to hone in on those two areas as a defense, for sure.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].