ANN ARBOR — Jake Butt may have missed out on the senior pranks. But nearly a year ago, when many of his classmates were beginning to go through the rites of passage of their final year of high school, Butt was taking college courses and getting assimilated to being a Division I football player.
In what should have been his final semester at Pickerington North High School, Butt instead chose to enroll early at Michigan. Sometimes he made the three-hour trip from Ann Arbor to Pickerington, in the Columbus suburbs — that way he got to go to his senior prom and to walk across the stage at graduation. However, he gained a key advantage in choosing to forgo his final semester of high school.
“Spring ball was a huge gain, and also the academic parts,” said Butt, a 6-foot-6 freshman tight end on the Michigan football team. “School here is pretty tough but I got the hang of it. I took three classes in the winter, but with spring ball, you get a feel for what it’s like.
“I didn’t want to sit out. I love football too much. I had to see the field. I knew the only way to do that was to come in early.”
Michigan (7-5) faces Kansas State (7-5) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz., and Butt has emerged not only as a blocking tight end but also as a piece in the Wolverines’ passing game.
“He’s one of our better run-blocking tight ends,” right tackle Mike Schofield said. “Now he’s starting to get a lot of passes thrown to him. He’s gone in the weight room, he’s gone all out and he’s trying to get his body to change. It’s showing.”
Even with sophomore tight end Devin Funchess taking on more receiving responsibilities, Butt has caught 17 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.
“I played receiver in high school so I didn’t really know what it took to put a hand in the ground and really drive-block a defensive end. So going through spring ball and camp and getting the extra work that I did with a lot of the guys in here, that was definitely the biggest thing.
“I always knew I could get the pass game down. It was just getting my footwork down, and now I’m just getting my strength and weight.”
Instead of the “freshman 15,” Butt has gained nearly 40 pounds as part of the transition from being a lanky receiver to a sturdy tight end.
“I eat anything and everything, honestly,” said Butt, who weighs 246 pounds and aims to weigh between 255 and 260. “A lot of Chipotle, steak and potatoes, whatever I can get my hands on. I was so skinny when I got here so my diet was eat anything and everything you want to. I didn’t complain about that.”
Consumption was the easy part for Butt. The initial adjustment to the physical aspect of college football was more difficult.
Butt struggled through his first collegiate workout, and admits that his blocking left much to be desired. But following the end of spring practices — around the time many of his high school classmates were returning from spring break and making graduation plans — he saw a significant difference.
“I didn’t know what to step with or where to put my hands,” Butt said. “It’s like night and day from spring ball until now. I look at the film like, ‘who is that kid?’ Thank God we’ve got great coaches because they really put a complete transformation on me.”
GARDNER UPDATE: Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday that quarterback Devin Gardner could return to practice later this week, but was noncommittal as to whether Gardner should be labeled “questionable” for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Gardner, whom Hoke said is bothered by turf toe and is wearing a walking boot, did not practice last week or Monday. If Gardner was to miss the bowl game, Hoke said he would be comfortable with starting true freshman Shane Morris at quarterback.
“We just want him to make sure that he's rested enough and that we don’t want him to get out there too soon,” Hoke said of Gardner. “It’s wanting to make sure that he’s totally healthy. He’s thrown the ball a little bit but we haven’t done a whole lot.”
Michigan will also practice Saturday in Ann Arbor before leaving next week for Arizona.