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|AP Photo/Bob Child|
|Darius Butler is contributing on offense, defense and special teams.|
Darius Butler is only taking one class this semester at Connecticut.
That's good because the fifth-year senior is working on a master's level education in football this season.
Butler is a triple-threat for the Huskies. He's their best cover cornerback on defense, he returns kickoffs on special teams and he's quickly becoming one the team's most dangerous targets at wide receiver.
"I'm loving it so far," he said. "I always, always want to be on the field."
He's definitely getting his wish. Against North Carolina, Butler started on both offense and defense and returned seven kickoffs. At Louisville last month, he played almost every snap on offense in the second half as UConn rallied for the victory, catching his first career touchdown pass to spark the comeback. As he was giving an interview after the game, coach Randy Edsall sneaked up behind him and poured a bottle of water over Butler's head.
But Butler says he hasn't needed a cooling-off period.
"The last thing I'm thinking about is getting a break," he said, "especially in a game like [Louisville] when we're down in the second half."
Butler had never played offense in college before this season, but he started lobbying Edsall to get a chance at wideout this winter. When UConn's receiving corps thinned from injuries this spring, Butler won his case.
Edsall pledged this summer to use Butler sporadically on offense, but didn't unveil it until the third game of the season against Virginia. He caught two passes for 40 yards and ran an end-around for a 13-yard touchdown in the 45-10 blowout win. Since then, he's been indispensable to a Huskies offense that hasn't gotten much else moving outside of running back Donald Brown's heroics.
He's tied for third on the team with 107 receiving yards despite having played only four games at receiver. He's the only UConn wideout with a touchdown catch.
"We're going to keep coaching him up and keep getting him better at all the little things, which I think will help him be even more productive on the field," Edsall said. "Somebody doing what Darius is doing has to be a phenomenal athlete, first and foremost, but then also has to be a well-conditioned athlete as well."
Butler attacked his summer workouts with the idea becoming a three-way player. In previous years, he would go home to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during the team's three-week May hiatus and maybe again in the two weeks before fall camp opened. This year, he stayed on campus the entire summer and focused on improving his conditioning.
Butler estimates that he spends about 80 percent of practice time with the defense, then slips over to the offensive side for a period or two. He goes to meetings for offense, defense and special teams. Sometimes in practice, he'll play cornerback for a few series in 7-on-7 drills, then flip sides to catch passes.
Part of the advantage of doing that is he can use tips he's gained on both sides of the ball.
"I can look at a cornerback and tell what he's going to do because I've been doing that a long time," the four-year starter said. "It definitely helps."
Triple threats like Butler (he ranks fourth in the Big East in kickoff returns at 22.4 yards per attempt) are extremely rare in major college football. Virginia Tech defensive back Macho Harris has moonlighted on offense and returns punts. Vanderbilt corner D.J. Moore returns kicks and punts and has lined up at times at receiver, though he does not have a catch this season. But the list is short.
"I don't really know why that is," Butler said. "Different coaches have different reasons. Maybe it's because there are more opportunities to get hurt."
Butler said he doesn't fear the prospect of injury, though he has reasons for concern. He has been projected as a high-round NFL draft pick next spring at cornerback and ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at last year's junior day. He also has a newborn daughter to take care of.
"I just want to help the team win and do whatever they need me to do," he said. "And obviously, I want to do it because I want to get some snaps on offense as well."