ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize Roger Butler is a very good football player.
Through the first seven games this season, Butler has scored 23 touchdowns for eighth-ranked Tabor College and tallied 140 points, which leads the nation at the NAIA level.
His 1,135 rushing yards are a single season record at Tabor. With 189 carries (6.0 yards per carry), Butler averages 162.1 rushing yards per game.
In Tabor’s game with Southwestern Oct. 22, Butler earned NAIA national player-of-the-week honors for rushing for 255 yards on 40 carries and for scoring five touchdowns.
Although Butler is the consummate team player, the goal Butler most wants to reach won’t be accomplished on a football field. It comes from hard work in the classroom.
Butler intends to earn a degree from Tabor College.
“My degree is more important than football because football is only temporary,” said the senior from Hanford, Calif. “You can get hurt or a lot of things can happen to end your athletic career, but your bachelor’s degree is something that can’t be taken away. That’s going to stay with me forever.”
Tabor coach Mike Gardner said those sentiments sound familiar.
“I told Roger the other day that one of the proudest days of my life will be when he graduates from college,” Gardner said.
Butler’s parents, Roger Sr. and Sharon, also know the value of an education and passed that on to their only child.
“Sharon and I have always instilled in him that education is one of the key elements to success,” Roger Sr. said from his home in California. “We were very blessed. The church which Roger grew up in Hanford highly emphasized education. One of his goals is to be the first grandchild to achieve a BA degree.
“We have always provided a Christian foundation for Roger and always supported his dreams and goals.”
That Christian foundation may literally have saved Butler’s life as he grew up in San Diego.
“I grew up in some tough neighborhoods down there,” Butler said. “Lots of my family and friends gang-banged and I was around a lot of dope and stuff at a young age.
“What kept me going was God and my parents, you know what I’m saying?” Butler asked rhetorically. “(My parents’) leadership and encouragement to keep playing ball and attending school was what saved me.”
The Butler family eventually moved to Hanford, where Roger attended and graduated from Hanford West High School in 2002.
Butler was recruited and signed by Fresno State out of high school. But when things didn’t work out as planned, he ended up at Reedley (Calif.) College, a junior college.
“Our team won the national junior college championship when I was a freshman,” Butler said. “I played, but not a lot because we had so many running backs.”
In his sophomore season, Butler started and starred for the Tigers, drawing the attention of Division I schools Utah and Washington before he decided to further his education at San Diego State.
“Some things were going down with my grades though and I was going to have to sit out a year,” Butler recalled. “I had a friend, Jesse Lira, who was coming to Tabor and he told me I should check it out. That’s how I ended up here.”
That and a lot of persistence by Gardner and assistant head coach Dustin Miller.
“If you’re persistent enough, you can get some of these guys,” Gardner said. “We sold Roger on the fact that this is a family atmosphere and that’s what we wanted to build at Tabor College.