This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Is it real? Cory Butler still wonders.
It's all so fresh: new uniforms, new facility, new coaches, new teammates. Playing Division I football is all Butler ever dreamed of, but like many dreams in his life, he's still afraid it will be snatched away.
The 20-year-old is used to the pattern. Just when it seems like everything is coming together, there's one more obstacle in his way. Even joining the Utah football program this week a goal he's been striving toward for the past year feels like it must have some kind of catch.
"Honestly, even right now I still don't feel like it's true," he said. "I feel like they're going to call me back sometime, because they kept throwing stuff at me."
Most recently, it was academics. Butler had to take four classes this summer just to qualify academically. He pulled 14-hour days at L.A. Harbor College, taking math, English, psychology and business classes while squeezing workouts in between to finish his studies less than a week before Utes camp began on Thursday.
But Butler, whom coaches widely expect to be an impact player possibly on both sides of the ball this year for the Utes, doesn't sweat in the face of most kinds of adversity, especially in the classroom or on the field. Ever since he was born, he's had to be ready for life to pull out the rug from under his feet.
"He had so many problems," said Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah. "I think God said, 'You're the only guy with enough patience to deal with this and unravel this.'"
Early in his life in Compton, Calif., Butler's mom, Miesha Byrd, was the only parent he had around. He and his siblings moved often, and not just around town: When Butler was in elementary school, his mother moved to Atlanta to help take care of his ailing grandmother.
He stayed with her for stints in Georgia, and shuffled through other relatives and godparents. Butler equates it with being "homeless," because he never stayed one place for long.
He finally landed with Jesse Davis, a family friend and his Pop Warner coach. Davis, who has four children younger than Cory and an older daughter who was a USC track star, opened his doors to Butler gladly, hoping he could find his footing. But with his mother in a different state when she tried to move back to California, she couldn't find work it was never easy.
"We've had our nights where we talk, and he'll be crying," Davis said. "He was like any kid. He said, 'I just miss my mother. I wish she was here.'"
Moving so often kept Butler off the football field as well: He was in between schools as a freshman and a junior, and he had a wrist injury his sophomore year. But as a senior, he finally suited up for West Adams Prep and was a force: He played defensive end, returner, receiver, running back, defensive back anywhere he could.
His West Adams team lost to Travis Wilson's San Clemente team in 2011, 35-6. But it wasn't from Butler's lack of effort: He returned a kick 95 yards for a touchdown and sacked Wilson twice.
"I actually didn't realize that was him until I got here," Butler said. "But yeah, I definitely got him back then."
The constant moving meant Butler had some holes in his academic transcripts. He thought he could get one more year of eligibility when he transferred to Centennial High in Compton (where Davis was on the coaching staff). He went as far as suiting up for Centennial's first game, when he was informed he couldn't play high school football that season.
Many schools were interested at the time. But when the problems reared their head, only Utah stayed.
"A lot of coaches told me I disappeared from the face of the earth," Butler said.
He realized he had to go through junior college, and was distraught. This wasn't how it was supposed to go, he thought. He had been trying to go to UCLA. Davis took him on a long drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, telling him his own journey through junior college and on to USC was difficult but doable.
"It's a two-year setback to prove yourself," Davis told him. "Life sometimes throws hurdles at you, and if you respond in the right way, God blesses you."
Butler decided to attack his opportunity at L.A. Harbor College. Davis followed him by getting a job on the staff. The team struggled through a pair of losing seasons, and at times Butler was the brightest spot for the program. He played on both sides of the ball, catching 42 passes for 583 yards as a freshman, then racking up 46 tackles and 5 interceptions as a sophomore while also handling return duties. The kid who played only one year of high school ball became a four-star recruit.
Butler said his relationship with Shah played a huge role in his recruiting, but watching Utah battle Oregon this past fall sold him. He saw the sold-out crowd, and even as the Utes suffered gaffes and devastating injuries, he saw them battle through it. It reminded him of himself.
After signing with the Utes, he still had hoops to jump through. He set up a four-class summer schedule so he could be cleared in time for fall camp. While some counted him out, Davis said, Butler simply kept his head in his books.
"I would walk in his place at 2 or 3 a.m., and he was sitting there doing his homework," he said. "He worked his A-S-S off and took care of business. I'm so proud of that kid."
It hasn't even been a full week in Salt Lake City, but Butler said he's glad to be out of his neighborhood in Los Angeles, which is experiencing a wave of gang violence. Yet, he still has connections to where he's from through Shah, who grew up in L.A., and teammate Tevin Carter, who played Pop Warner football with him. Troy McCormick is another fast friend who has fed Butler tips from the sidelines.
Butler's experience all over the field has made him a hot commodity among the coaches, who are battling over where he'll play. He's begun camp at slot receiver, where he's made multiple catches during the first two 20-minute media observation sessions.
It still doesn't feel real, but he's trying to embrace it as much as he can allow himself. His mother may not be able to afford to fly to Utah to watch him play, but she'll be watching on TV. Her name will also be on his jersey: Butler plans on hyphenating his name to Cory Butler-Byrd, in recognition of his mother.
Even being at Utah, he said, feels like a miracle in itself. And she, Davis, and a enormous cast of support helped make it happen.
"I'll go wherever fits the team," he said. "They stuck with me all the way through high school, through junior college. I'm just happy to be here."
Cory Butler at a glance
• 5-foot-9, 175 pounds
• Four-star recruit by Rivals and Scout
• 46 tackles,5 interceptions as a sophomore at L.A. Harbor
• 42 catches, 583 yards, 7 TDs as a freshman
• Played only one year of high school football at West Adams Prep (Los Angeles)