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October 11, 2013

Brothers in confidence

It’s a 10-hour drive from Washington, D.C. to South Bend. Depending on connections, flying the distance takes anywhere from three-and-a-half to nearly six hours. Yet Darius Butler has made the trip twice this fall to see his younger brother Devin earn a few snaps each game.

As brothers, such travels should not be surprising, but they remain impressive. Darius navigates the trips in a wheelchair.

Five years ago this Sunday, Darius suffered five gunshot wounds, paralyzing him from the waist down. The tragedy brought the already close brothers even closer, in many ways inverting the roles of older and younger brother, cheered for and cheerleader.

“It gives me a lot of motivation,” Devin said of having his brother in the stands/along the sideline. “He’s my biggest supporter. Through anything, he’s always telling me how proud of me he is.”

A few months before Devin moved west, Darius moved out of their parents’ house to live with his fiancé and daughter, so the two brothers were used to being under different roofs before Devin left for college. Understandably so, the adjustment of not living within a few miles has been a bit more bothersome.

“It was a tough adjustment in the summer,” Devin said in his first media availability of the season on Tuesday. “I talk to him all the time. Every day I call him...It was really cutting the cord.”

The older brother saw the freshman cornerback play about 10 snaps and make a tackle in his college debut against Temple. He notched another tackle against Oklahoma. With extended family in Dallas, Darius also attended the Shamrock Series contest.

Both Butler and classmate Cole Luke have seen meaningful playing time in the defensive backfield this season, and increasingly so. Irish head coach Brian Kelly attributes their early appearances to their understanding of the defensive concepts. Notre Dame recruits many fine athletes, but only so many have the mental acumen to grasp the college game within a few weeks.

“Both of those freshman corners have shown not only the physical ability but the mental capacity to be able to go in there and compete,” Kelly said prior to the victory over Arizona State. “I think you’ll see that from both of them.”

Butler agrees with Kelly’s assessment, citing the speed of the game as the biggest change from what he faced at Gonzaga High School.

“A lot of it is more mental within myself,” he said. “Slowing the game down in my head, really being confident in my ability and being confident the coaches are putting me in the right position, to trust the scheme of the defense.”

That confidence comes from the coaches and his teammates, but also from knowing someone back home is watching intently. Then again, as often as not, Darius Butler isn’t watching from back home; he’s watching in person.


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