You never see teams as excited for a 3-yard touchdown in a blowout win as Boise State was on Sept. 1 in Troy, Ala.
When Akilian Butler took a quick pass from Brett Rypien into the end zone, holding on after a hit, he popped up from the turf to celebrate with anyone in sight.
Eight days shy of a year prior, Butler was lying in an end zone on the other side of the country at Washington State, unable to stand on his own, aware that the pain in his left knee meant his season was done early.
Partially because he was able to rebound from his torn ACL, but also because of his infectious personality, the Broncos were overjoyed to see Butler back and making a play.
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“That’s really powerful — when guys come back, it’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “There was kind of that moment where he got up ... like, ‘I’m back.’ We all understood, without him saying anything, what he meant.”
Said Butler: “It meant everything to me. I’d have been happy just standing there, but that was really special to me.”
The touchdown was the first receiving score in the redshirt junior’s career, and he added another the following week against UConn.
Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau said the veteran’s presence has been “invaluable,” helping a room that includes four scholarship newcomers that joined the team this summer.
“It was devastating at the moment I got hurt because I couldn’t help my team,” Butler said. “As soon as I knew in the locker room, I became the biggest cheerleader. It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve had to do, but I’m glad I went through it because it made me who I am today.”
Bringing up your teammates is something that can’t be measured in a box score, but as Butler was going through a tough time, he kept others’ spirits up.
“He can make anybody smile any day,” said senior cornerback Tyler Horton, his roommate of four years. “He can take a boring story and turn it into something outstanding. He’s always putting in extra work, bringing up the guys around him.”
That’s a recurring theme through Butler’s life — his ability to inspire with his work ethic, attitude and personality. It was apparent to Adrian Madise when he met Butler before his junior year at West Mesquite High east of Dallas.
“Such a scrappy guy, just worked his butt off,” said Madise, then the Wranglers’ receivers coach and now a receivers coach at Lamar University. “He did every single drill I put him through, and more. He’d go back home and work on the tops of his routes or his releases right there in the kitchen and the living room.”
Butler played in 22 games before his injury in last season’s second game, and had just seven career receptions. In five games this season, he has 14 catches for 105 yards.
Though he kept a happy face, Butler was only human last year. Being around the team but not practicing was tough. When the team traveled to away games, he stayed home.
So Butler found a new roommate — a hairy, slobbering one named Boss.
“I love dogs, and I saw a breeder in Twin Falls had pit bull puppies, so I drove out there the weekend of the Mountain West championship,” Butler said. “As soon as I saw him, I couldn’t resist.”
When Butler got down, Boss was there to welcome him home with the exuberance only man’s best friend can show. And even his human roommates quickly appreciated the new addition.
“Boss is something crazy,” Horton said. “He’s a really loving dog. I’ll take him for walks sometimes, but for some reason if my door is open, he goes nuts, just messes up the place. He’s this funny little child. I’m glad he’s part of the family.”
Madise said “with Akilian, it goes beyond the game, it’s about the people he’s with.”
“He’s been awesome, battling back through injury, brings great energy out to practice every single day,” Rypien said. “It’s only going to help us moving forward.”
Butler’s early college career was full of obstacles: He was unable to find consistent production; he broke his collarbone to end his freshman year a few weeks early; and last year saw the torn ACL. But Butler certainly has not let hurdles get in his way.
“He’s got this stick-to-itiveness about him,” Madise said. “I think other kids would be wearing another jersey right now. But he wanted to stay and fight through the battles, become a stronger man, and you see it’s paying off.”
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR AKILIAN BUTLER
What is your favorite NFL team?
“It would have to be the Steelers. It’s a family tradition, even my grandfather loved them. It’s how they play hard, and they have a good receiver tradition with Antonio Brown, (Antwaan) Randle-El, Hines Ward, guys like that.”
Scoring that touchdown at Troy seemed to be extra special. Why?
“I grew up in Alabama, in Mobile, and we moved to Dallas when I was 11. I had a bunch of people in the stands, it was like a homecoming. That’s part of why I was so excited.”
What do you miss about Texas?
“I miss the food. There were a lot of places I loved to go, and I miss every last one of them.”
If you could have any job outside of football, what would it be?
“Acting. I’d love to be an actor. It’s something I always wanted to do as a little kid, always watched TV when I was young. I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ ”
What kind of movie would you want to be in?
“I would love to be in a Kevin Hart movie, like an action-comedy. I’d want Denzel Washington or Jamie Foxx in it, too. Jamie Foxx, he’s so talented, he’s my favorite actor because he can do anything.”
BOISE STATE AT NEVADA
When: 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday
Where: Mackay Stadium (27,000, FieldTurf), Reno, Nev.
TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Aaron Murray, Cassie McKinney); CableOne ch. 139/1139, DirecTV ch. 221, Dish Network ch. 158
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 3-2, 1-1 (lost to San Diego State 19-13 on Saturday); Nevada 3-3, 1-1 (lost to Fresno State 21-3 on Saturday)
Series: Boise State leads 29-13 (won 41-14 on Nov. 4, 2017, in Boise)
Vegas line: Boise State by 17
Weather: Low 50s, clear