Bulldogs’ Butler comes up big


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By bulking up to 150 pounds, Deon Butler made himself one of the best cornerbacks in the region.

Sure, 150 pounds might not sound like much for a key player in Saturday’s Division 6 state championship football game, but the Hylton High School junior now has more of a physical presence to go with his ability to cover taller, bigger wide receivers. This year, he proved he could tackle the opposition, too.

“I’ve been hitting the weight room,” said Butler, who began his sophomore year at 5-foot-8, 135 pounds but has taken part in sessions led by advanced physical education teacher Mike Thornton. “Coach Thornton has us doing some real vigorous workouts.

“I knew I could cover well, but I had to get bigger to play against the run — especially with Gar-Field coming back with so many big running backs and linemen this year.”

In the first of Hylton’s three wins over Cardinal District rival Gar-Field this season, Butler made 10 solo tackles and assisted on four others. Two of his tackles were for a loss, and he was well on his way to a second-team all-Northwest Region season. He enters Saturday’s final game against Oakton with 43 solo tackles and 20 assists, four interceptions, nine pass breakups and two blocked kicks.

Two of Oakton’s most dangerous offensive players aren’t any bigger than Butler — Cougar quarterback Pat Day’s 5-foot-8, 168 pounds and top receiver Danny Phipps is 5-8, 146 — so the state championship clearly has a place for sub-six footers. And Hylton coach Lou Sorrentino thinks college recruiters, come next year, shouldn’t overlook Butler.

“I had two kids last year who were scholarship corners and he can cover right with them,” said Sorrentino, who coached 6-1 Stefan Orange (Virginia) and 6-2 Franky Puller (Division II Shippensburg) in his final season at Culpeper. “Taller corners are more fashionable now with bigger receivers, but even though Deon is kind of slight he has made some nice tackles this year. He has such an engaging personality and he’s a leader on our defense.”

Hylton’s other cornerback, junior Jerome Quinata, also is 5-10 but weighs 35 pounds more than Butler. “Jerome’s a big, powerful kid who benches over 300 pounds,” Sorrentino said. “They do it differently, but he and Deon both get the job done.”

Covering receivers is nothing new for Butler, according to Hylton teammate James Parker, a junior linebacker. “When I played middle-school ball with Deon, he was one of the smaller guys on the field — even more than now,” Parker said. “But even then he was good at covering.”

Deon’s older brother, Lee, is a freshman student at the University of Miami (Fla.) after playing point guard for the Bulldogs’ basketball team. Following the football season, Deon is in line to replace his brother in the backcourt.

“Lee had real good grades, so it was pretty much his decision on where to go to college,” Deon Butler said. “He was really sold when he visited Miami — my dad and I were fortunate enough to go with him. He liked the climate and the fact that it was a small, private college — not what you’d expect from knowing about the football team.”

With 11/2 years of high school left, the younger of the two Butler brothers hasn’t yet created a short list of where he might go to college but he said he would like to find “some place out of state.” With the Woodbridge Hawks’ Amateur Athletic Union team, Butler already has traveled as far away as Tennessee and Michigan along with Hylton two-sport teammate Endor Cooper.

Butler currently takes advanced-placement courses in English and history, and physics is one of his favorite subjects.

“My parents have always instilled in me that if you do your schoolwork, that’s what really sets you apart from everyone else,” he said.

As accomplished as Lee Butler was as a student and athlete at Hylton, Deon will be the first in the family to compete for a state title. He played sparingly on special teams for last year’s state semifinalist, but the Bulldogs fell one win shy of going to Richmond. “My brother still gives me words of wisdom because he was in a lot of big basketball games at Hylton,” Butler said. “But this is pretty much as big as it gets at the high-school level.”

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