Friends senior and two-time All-American offensive guard Mitch Butterfield looks on during practice Wednesday. Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle
Friends senior and two-time All-American offensive guard Mitch Butterfield looks on during practice Wednesday. Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

Sports

Friends senior lineman Mitch Butterfield talks on campus, learns on field

By Paul Suellentrop

psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com

September 15, 2017 04:14 PM

Mitch Butterfield’s comfort zone is knocking over defensive linemen, ordering three-meat pizza or fried chicken with his roommates and playing the NCAA Football video game at their house near the Friends University campus.

In the mornings, he branches out as a campus tour guide for the admissions department. Butterfield shows off every building — highlighted by the Davis Administration Building and its landmark clock tower — before walking prospective students and parents to a meeting with a professor or coach.

It’s the kind of duty he wasn’t comfortable with as a freshman, until he decided he needed to conquer that shyness.

“When I got to college, and even in high school, I wasn’t the most talkative, conversational person,” he said. “You’ve got to find stuff to talk about. I don’t just give (tours) to athletes — fine arts students … talking with people who are a little different than me, not the same interests.”

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Now Butterfield, a 6-foot-1, 315-pound two-time NAIA All-American offensive guard, is a hospitable veteran of the routine. He asks musicians about how long they played their instrument and talks up the university’s Singing Quakers to vocal music students.

Friends seniorMitch Butterfield.
Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

“Then I hope they have some questions about the school, so I’m not just walking awkwardly from building to building,” he said.

Butterfield understands awkward transitions.

In March, Friends fired football coach Monty Lewis after 14 seasons. The new coaching staff made dramatic changes to the offense and needed its best player to help bring the rest of the team along. Offensive coordinator Matt Kalb worried Butterfield would resist.

“I’ve seen that before — ‘Why aren’t you molding to us?’ ” Kalb said. “He could have been really non-committal about it. Or, you can be really pro-active, and that’s what he was.”

Butterfield didn’t like the changes at first — he is long-time friends with Falcons linebacker Josh Lewis, son of Monty. Butterfield, Lewis and the other seniors saw last season’s 6-5 record as a step toward a KCAC title in 2017. Spring football helped get his mind off the upheaval and on his upcoming senior season. New coach Dion Meneley helped, Butterfield said, with his positive approach and his lessons about dealing with adversity.

By the time Kalb started emailing him video of the new offense, Butterfield was ready to learn.

“He embraced change very quickly,” Meneley said. “He’s always been the one that has been the first to embrace what we’re doing, coach up the other guys. When your leadership is invested, others fall into place.”

The Falcons changed from a power running game to an NFL-style spread system. It requires Butterfield to switch sides, left or right, depending on the play call and asks for much more pass blocking. The Falcons rarely huddle and wear wristbands to make their play calls.

“It was old-school … run it down their throat until they stop you,” Butterfield said. “This is more new-age football, spread out, fast, lot of quick stuff.”

Kalb knew he had Butterfield’s buy-in when the player asked for help understanding the offense. For Butterfield, there was no question he wanted to learn and excel. So he studied.

“I don’t like to have any kind of question about what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I want to know exactly what I’m doing. And I like to know what everybody is doing. I like to know everything.”

Butterfield’s teammates aren’t surprised that he adapted quickly. They watched him master the previous offense on his way to second-team All-American honors as a sophomore and first team as a junior.

“The way his mind works is just football,” senior receiver Jacob Cron said. “It comes easy to him, just a natural understanding of concepts and different offenses.”

Butterfield grabbed all the change, in part, because he wants to coach. He plans to look for a graduate assistant’s job at an NCAA school for next season to start his coaching career. He looked at learning a new offense as a resume-builder. At Maize South, he played in a veer offense, followed by power running and pro-style at Friends.

“Why wouldn’t I want to learn new offenses or learn what else is out there?” he said. “I love football. It’s what I wake up and think about. It’s what I go asleep and think about.”

He also considers his future in coaching when he gives tours around the campus.

“When you’re a coach, you deal with 120 different personalities on your team; you’ve to know how to talk with different people,” he said.

The Falcons (0-3) lost to Ottawa 34-28 in triple overtime Saturday night.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop