Defeat has a way of finding some athletes more than others, but for four years, Uriah LeMay had no idea what it felt like.
Sure, there were some close calls, times when a loss tried to creep up from behind wielding an idle threat. Yet from LeMay’s eighth-grade year to his stint on JV to last season’s repeat 4AA championship for Butler, victory was his.
For some reason though, Aug. 19 was different. After the Bulldogs fell behind early to powerhouse Mallard Creek, LeMay caught a touchdown pass to tie the score. When the Mavericks went up again, LeMay answered with another TD reception. Ultimately, despite LeMay's efforts, defeat had the last word in a 28-20 loss.
“It just showed we have a lot more to work on and every loss is another opportunity to learn from,” said LeMay, a junior for the Bulldogs. “It hurt a lot, though, because that was the first one I had experienced in a long time.”
Before that rare loss in August, LeMay’s effort could almost never be questioned, resulting in 900 total yards and 12 touchdowns during the Bulldogs’ 15-0 state-title run last year. But since then, LeMay has upped the ante, making sure he and his teammates’ effort will never come up short again.
The message was sent on the opening kickoff of the Bulldogs’ very next game. In one of his many duties, LeMay was back to receive the kick, but even when the ball didn’t come his way, the junior went to work.
Initially, LeMay zoomed across the field, popping an oncoming defender to open a hole for the returner, Josh Glisson. But LeMay wasn’t done. After making up the five yards between him and Glisson, LeMay threw two more blocks to spring his teammate for a 93-yard score and open up a 70-6 rout of Olympic.
“He could have relaxed because the ball wasn’t kicked to him, or he could have stood over the guy and celebrated after his first block, but instead, Uriah busted his tail to get ahead and make two more big plays,” Butler coach Brian Hales said.
“That’s Uriah. If you look at the film, on almost any play you can say, ‘Here’s Uriah; watch how he makes something happen.’”
While LeMay serves as a model for his teammates, racking up 340 total yards and seven touchdowns during Butler’s 2-1 start, he’s had several good examples to look up to as well.
There’s his older brother, Christian, who led Butler to its first state crown in 2009 and is now a freshman quarterback at Georgia. There’s also his dad, Stacy, who played at Florida A&M before serving as chaplain for the Florida football program. And as a result, there’s his relationship with God, which keeps him grounded and humbly aware of his gifts.
“Uriah is strong in his faith,” Hales said. “Because of how his parents raised him, he knows that he’s been blessed with this talent and he knows that people blessed with talent need to be thankful and work to get the most out of their talent.”
One of those blessings is LeMay’s imposing size and speed. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, LeMay has the ability to shake off tacklers as well as turn a quick slant into a long touchdown. Of LeMay’s seven scores this season, three have gone for at least 50 yards
“Ever since we met in eighth grade I’ve been excited to play with Uriah because he’s a serious player with how big, fast and strong he is,” Butler quarterback Riley Ferguson said. “Once he catches the ball, there’s no telling who will stop him because he can score anytime.”
LeMay’s playmaking ability has led to 11 scholarship offers from the likes of Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, Florida and Clemson. Just a junior, LeMay says he hasn’t narrowed down his list yet, and come senior year, it’s bound to be a long one.
Until then, LeMay is focused on bringing a third straight title to the Bulldogs. With every team gunning for Butler and the deep pool of talented football programs in North Carolina, it’ll be a tough task, but LeMay has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
“It’s all about determination,” LeMay says. “No matter where I line up, offense or defense, receiver or running back, as long as I have in my mind that I can’t be stopped and have confidence in my ability, I just trust it will bring me success.”
And with a track record like LeMay’s, there’s no reason for him to think otherwise.
Brandon Parker covers North Carolina for ESPNHS magazine and ESPNHIGHSCHOOL.com. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.