His name may not have been among the three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award during tonight’s NFL Honors, but former UConn CB Darius Butler was one of 32-players nominated for this year’s prestigious recognition. Selected by his coaches and teammates, Butler has committed himself to service since he started his career with the New England Patriots, who selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft.
His former coach, Chuck Pagano, proudly presented him as the Indianapolis Colts nominee in December.
“It’s an honor and privilege for me to announce that Darius Butler is our nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award,” Pagano said that day. “We know how special a man and a player Walter was and the impact he had on not only the great game that we play and coach, but the impact that he made on people’s lives. I don’t think there’s a greater honor in the National Football League than being nominated for this truly prestigious award. I could go on and on for hours about how special this guy is and what he’s meant to our organization, not only what he’s done on the football field and inside this building since he’s been here, but what he’s done outside this building.”
“We talk about serving and giving back, team first and self second, this is one of the most selfless guys that I know,” he continued. “His teammates would tell you the same thing. I remember scouting Darius when he came out [of Connecticut] and I was in Baltimore. I had a chance to meet him and his family here in Indianapolis at the combine, met his mom and dad in the airport. He’s blessed, has a great family and I’m grateful for Darius and what he’s done for this organization and what he’s done for this team, but more importantly what he’s done outside and in the community. Honesty, integrity, professionalism, character and most important, humility. He’s one of the most humble guys I know.”
That mindset comes from Butler’s upbringing.
“Darius comes from a military family and has close relatives in law enforcement, so he personally understands the meaning of sacrifice and service to the community and country,” Pagano added.
Since his arrival in Indianapolis in 2012, Butler has donated time and resources to Boys II Men, Inc, and continued the ‘Darius Butler Foundation,’ which addresses hunger in underserved communities and motivates at-risk youth to achieve their dreams and excel in the classroom. His foundation consists of over nine programs and initiatives that focus on youth development and community engagement. This past offseason, Butler also traveled to Jamaica to serve at the RuJohn Foundation’s weeklong football camp, helping teach fundamental football drills to hundreds of kids.
“I was definitely surprised when they announced it,” Butler said. “It was humbling. I’m proud to just be amongst the guys that had been nominees before from this team; Peyton Manning, Pat McAfee, David Thornton, Dwayne Allen, a lot of guys that did a lot of great things in the community that are still lasting past their playing days here. I hope to do the same and follow in their footsteps. Serving has been a huge emphasis of mine since I came into the league. It was instilled in me by my parents. There were a lot of us growing up, but they always found more to give to other people who needed it, so it stuck with me.”
Having teammates as part of the selection process made it even more special.
“Anytime you are recognized by your peers, it always means a little more,” he said. “Even the team, organization and being recognized amongst the other guys around the league that are doing great things, it’s truly an honor.”
Butler made an appearance on Good Morning Football on the NFL Network to discuss the nomination. He mentioned time spent talking with individuals at the homeless shelter in Indy is something that has stuck with him the most.
“It’s crazy how things can happen to anyone,” he said. “If you don’t have that support system, that family that I’m blessed to have, you never know. Just talking to guys down at the homeless shelter that have owned businesses before, have college degrees and they just fell on hard times, that’s really impacted me.”
Despite a trying year for Buter and the Colts on the field this season, his generosity continued off the field, donating $10,000.00 to a local youth football team and also passing along two Super Bowl tickets to Leroy Jones, head coach of that youth team, who has committed his life helping youth through football.
“Regardless of how things are going on the field, me personally, I feel like my impact on the community or people back at home, people in the Indianapolis community or people in Connecticut, where I went to college, I feel like that’s more important than anything I can do on the football field,” Butler said.
On it, however, he admitted it was a struggle.
“I still believe a lot of the pieces are here,” he said. “But this year, it sucked to be blatant. It wasn’t good enough for the players, the coaches, the fans and the organization, it didn’t live up to our standard. We had some things that didn’t go our way, but we make no excuses. We had chances to win a lot of these games, but didn’t close them out. We have a young team, you need to learn how to win in this league. It’s a fine line between winning and losing and a lot of guys learned that. It was a learning experience for me also, being on a winning team for most of my career, to go through a year like this, you learn a lot about yourself.”
Pagano was also let go at the end of the year, a guy that Butler was proud to play for over the last several years.
“Guys would run through a wall for Chuck, it was always that way” he said. “Anyone who has been around him, you can feel his energy and his spirit. He was always excited, said the right thing to guys and kept them upbeat. It was a rough season for him, for us and everyone involved. Obviously, as a head coach, you’re going to take a lot of heat. It’s the position he signed up for, it’s a position we all sign up for as players, but we’ll live, we’ll all grow from it. Guys in this locker room, in this building, we all love Chuck and rode with him to the end.”
MATT SCHONVISKY / SITE CREATOR