WICHITA, Kan. -- Brian Butler knows what you're thinking: He's another slimy, scummy hanger-on. A recruiting "adviser" for clueless teenagers, out for his own fame and notoriety -- for now. Who knows, what if all his Wichita high school football recruits continue to pan out?
Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin are on his speed dial. Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and offensive coordinator Chip Kelly stopped by a local gym recently to pay their respects before a home visit. A couple of days after getting the job, new Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple was in town for the same thing: a visit approved by and partially arranged by Butler, a 33-year-old former Division II fullback.
|Working with college football hopefuls has turned into a full-time job for Brian Butler. (PotentialPlayers.com)|
Sure, Butler is the middle man for Wichita East running back Bryce Brown, considered by some recruiting services the nation's top prospect less than a week before national signing day. Sure, Butler did the same thing last year, advising Bryce's five-star brother, Arthur, now at Miami.
Like Arthur before him, Bryce's suitors get to him, and his parents, through Butler who, until a year ago, was managing a T-Mobile cell phone outlet. To the haters it's obvious what is going on. To Butler and his legion of prep talent, the doubters couldn't be more wrong.
"Somebody coming to me talking about (paying me) $20,000 or $50,000? I'd be like, 'Man, you're way short,'" Butler said laughing. "You talk about $5 million. We would really consider $5 million to cheat."
Every person has his price. Butler's is a joke, obviously. Even the most unscrupulous boosters wouldn't pay that amount for a player. Even if they did, Butler says he would be standing there with his hand up, halting the transaction like a recruiting traffic cop.
So far, there is no other reason to think otherwise.
After the players themselves, Brian Butler is the best story of this recruiting season. Maybe the best-known recruiting figure in the country right now after all those pimply-faced hopefuls. We're talking recruitniks, coaches and players who consider him a player in the recruiting game more than a playah with his hand out.
This is Wichita. Isolated in south central Kansas. Between the time Barry Sanders came out of Wichita North in 1986 and the emergence of the Brown brothers a couple of years ago, the city has basically been a recruiting wasteland. If nothing else, Butler is getting the kids attention from recruiters.
Kamerion Wimbley (Wichita Northwest) starred at Florida State and is now in the NFL. Chris Harper (Wichita Northwest) is a backup quarterback at Oregon. Blaize Foltz, an offensive lineman at TCU, was the first player from nearby Derby (Kan.) Rose Hill High to sign a I-A scholarship. Bishop Carroll junior quarterback Blake Bell might be the area's next big thing. Several schools are interested in the son of former NFL defensive lineman Mark Bell.
"I like Brian," MaxPreps recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said of Butler. "Wichita never really got any publicity. He's getting those kids scholarships. I think he's a good guy."
Bryce Brown's coach, Brian Byers, likes Butler, too -- but he wonders about the wonder of it all.
"Those two Brown kids are going to be Division I athletes whether Brian is involved or not," Byers said. "He's done a lot of things for them and that's all good. But if you think Brian Butler or someone like him is going to take someone and make them a Division I athlete, that's not going to happen."
|Bryce Brown will follow his older brother to Division I football. (Walter Dixon)|
"Look what he did for the Brown brothers," one of them says.
If Butler is on the take, it is not evident. The father of five drives an aging Oldsmobile van. On that cold, raw day with freezing drizzle, he rushed out of his house for his mother-in-law's wearing shorts and flip-flops. After briefly considering driving home for a wardrobe change before meeting Wichita-area athletes for a workout, Butler dropped the idea. It would take too much time out of his schedule with the kids, which included a New York Times photo shoot.
But forget all that for a moment. This is about where Bryce is headed. Everyone wants to know. His YouTube prep highlights are the closest thing to Reggie Bush since, well, Reggie Bush. The talented tailback is currently holding at least five schools hostage. He has committed to Miami but Oregon is in the mix along with USC, Tennessee and Auburn.
He is this year's Terrelle Pryor, sure to drag his decision out past Wednesday's signing day. Maybe way past. If nothing else, Butler has provided perspective. There should be no pressure for prospects to sign on Wednesday. It is a manufactured, artificial deadline that has turned into programming -- and revenue -- for websites and cable networks.
And so, Bryce Brown will wait and decide this thing on his own good time. The Hurricanes, Tigers, Vols and Trojans are competing for two of his remaining official visits.
"A coach said to us the other day, 'A lot of kids are looking at you to see where (Bryce is) going to go,'" Butler said. "I said, 'You know what you should tell them coach? You should tell them to wait. Our plan is not based on what anybody else does.'"
Butler speaks fondly of an "epiphany" he had in 2000. It started years before when he says his high school coach had failed him and his half-brother, dashing their college football dreams. Their highlight tapes weren't sent out. Recruiters' phone calls weren't returned.
"I may have anger management issues, but I was ready to take his head off," Butler says now of Don Davis, that former Wichita Northwest coach. "You're messing with somebody's life."
Butler ended up playing one season at Fort Hays State, scoring 13 touchdowns, then got a scholarship at I-AA Mars Hill in North Carolina but elected to go to Kansas State. That's where the party life got to him.
"I was really struggling," Butler said. "I really didn't feel like I was doing what I should be doing. One night I prayed and asked God what he wanted me to do; I woke up the next morning and wrote a three-page business plan. It was this business."
He vowed never to let happen again what had happened to him and his brother. Butler named his select group of prospects "Potential Players." It eventually became an LLC. Butler took his prospects on tours of Southern schools so they could be seen. He brokered a deal with ESPNU to showcase the Browns in a televised Wichita East-Dodge City game.
One famous camp ostensibly organized to show off the Browns included the likes of Charlie Weis, Bob Stoops and Carroll on the sidelines. In Wichita.
One day a few years earlier, Butler and then-partner DeAngelo Evans (a former Nebraska tailback) crawled up in the stands and laid out the plan for Lelonnie and Arthur Brown Sr.'s sons. The kids would have to sign a contract, take leadership roles at school, sit at the front of the class, attend weekly bible study. In return, the children received training at no cost to the Browns.
"Have you ever heard of helping people?" Butler asked his critics. "That was really the biggest issue. People weren't used to somebody doing something just to help."
Before moving on, let's answer some pressing recruiting questions ...
|Randy Shannon already brought Arthur Brown (11) to Miami; can he do the same with Bryce? (US Presswire)|
"He's very happy," Butler said. "Happier than any other man could be."
What is Bryce's situation right now? He is committed to Miami but he's still visiting, "which he told them before he committed," Butler added.
What difference does the offensive coordinator Miami hires make? (Whipple replaced Patrick Nix, who was fired Dec. 29)
"It's going to make a lot of difference. He's an offensive player and that play caller controls his whole situation."
Lord knows, there could be temptations. The Browns live in a modest home south of the city. Lelonnie styles hair. Arthur Sr. designs airplane parts. Someday they might be the parents of NFL stars, but they are trusting Butler to make the dream come true. Legitimately.
"Brian was an instrument God utilized," Arthur Sr. said.
Butler's ultimate dream is to model his business after a similar one set up in Cleveland and run by Ted Ginn Sr., father of former Ohio State star Ted Ginn Jr. Ginn Sr. famously took the state's best prospects on bus tours of various camps. There, they could be seen. With donations he built the Ginn Academy. The boarding school mentors at-risk males in inner-city Cleveland.
Butler finally quit that T-Mobile job to make a career out of this recruiting thing. His once-free potentialplayers.com website is now a pay site ($9.95) if you want the real skinny on Wichita-area players.
What's the difference between Butler and the recruiting-site bottom feeders at this point? They're both making money off the athletic talents of teenagers. For one, Butler is the source of the information. That's better than Rivals and Scout, which were making money off him.
His intentions are spiritual. If the point has to be made again, he isn't making a killing. His other source of income is working out the kids at Pure-formance in Andover, Kan. The facility is owned by Tim Simoneau and his brother Mark, a Kansas State and NFL veteran.
It's $75 a month for one day a week, $200 a month for three days a week. That works out to be less than $17 per workout.
"Trust me, I can take you to my house right now and show you a stack of bills and show you my bank account," Butler said. "I wonder how they're going to get paid."
Let's see how many recruiting experts have done this: Prior to picking Miami, Arthur fasted for a week along with Butler, Bryce and Arthur Sr., searching for "clarification." They all subsisted on water, juice and tomato soup. At the end of the week, they all, independently, had picked the Hurricanes.
Bryce will soon go through his own fast. He has graduated a semester early and is currently in Nebraska visiting an uncle, Lawrence Pete, a former Nebraska star. Soon, Bryce will make his decision. No money will change hands. The Brown brothers will be satisfied. So will everybody's friend of the family.
"There's a reason we're all in Wichita," Butler said. "We could have been in L.A., we could have in Australia, we could have been in Africa. God chose to put us here. There's a connection. It's all energy to me.
"People who think I should be broke and living in a shelter ... Who cares about my five kids and what they eat?"
Amid the freezing drizzle, a growing business and the best talent in the country, now you know what Brian Butler is thinking.