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December 19, 2013

Jake Butt: Michigan's next great tight end?

Freshman Jake Butt had one goal when he graduated high school early and arrived at Michigan in January - bulk up, learn quickly and earn playing time as a freshman. Spring ball was an eye-opener, but he made strides, reached his goals, and now has a chance to make his mark as one of the Wolverines' best at the position.

Eric Kattus and Derrick Walker in the 80s, Tony McGee, Jerame Tuman, Mark Campbell, Bennie Joppru - all evolved into some of the Big Ten's best, parlaying their Michigan success into NFL careers. Butt has a long way to go before he reaches those heights but he's got the potential, having shown it with 17 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in his first year.

Among them - five receptions for 85 yards and a score against Ohio State in one of his eight starts and a one-handed touchdown grab in overtime to help beat Northwestern. He earned a spot on ESPN.com's all-Big Ten freshman team, and the best is yet to come.

His passion for the game led to his early enrollment, helping him make an impact as a frosh.

"I didn't want to sit out," Butt said. "I love football too much. I wanted to see the field, and I knew the only way was coming early. I hold myself to a high standard, so I definitely expected to play."

It was frustrating, then, when he barely played in the opener against Central Michigan. He made it his mission to see the field the following weekend, responding with a great week of practice to earn his chance. He caught two passes for 17 yards in a 41-30 win, a preview of things to come.

"My grandpa went to Notre Dame, so I wanted to play. I was thrown into the fire, but it was the best feeling of my life playing in that game," he said. "I realized my blocking was part of the reason I got to step on to the field."

Now 246 pounds, Butt has learned to play with 37 added pounds and believes he has the frame to get to 260.

"Coach [Dan] Ferrigno wants me at 255, but I think I can get to 260," Butt said. "I'm a skinny 246, and I've gained 37 pounds but I have the same body percentage.

"When I first got here I ate anything and everything. I still eat chipotle, steak and potatoes. My first workout I struggled through it, how sore I was, but I saw progress coming into spring ball."

It continued through March and April. Butt's name came up frequently as one to watch given his pass catching ability. He still had miles to go as a blocker, but by game three - a win over UConn - the game started to slow down for him.

"I got used to the game speed and really know what to expect when I get out there on the field now," he said. "I always knew I could get the passing game down, get open against linebackers. I did it at The Opening (Nike Event in high school) and in spring ball, found ways to get open. I'm getting footwork down for blocking, and now adding strength and weight.

"You wouldn't even recognize my blocking in spring ball. I didn't know what foot to step with, where to put my hands. It's like night and day. I look at the film and say, 'who is that kid?' It's a good thing we've got great coaches here. They put a complete transformation on me, and I think the sky's the limit.

"One day I hope I can do the whole thing, hand in the ground, block in running plays and pass sets, continue to run routes. When I get to 260, my goal is to be stronger and take over the whole position."

And - maybe - evolve into U-Ms next great tight end.


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