By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Lying supine with the sky as his base, Evan Butts sometimes receives an odd look or two by passersby when he undergoes drills in his backyard. It’s a unique exercise for a unique skill.
Butts, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Episcopal Academy senior headed to Virginia, is one of the best two-way players in Southeastern Pennsylvania at defensive end and tight end. He’s projected to be a tight end at Virginia, and projected to do something else that could lead to playing on Sundays.
He’s an elite long snapper.
So for about a half-hour every-other-day, Butts will undergo his long-snapping drills into a catch net in his backyard. Some of that requires him to lie on his back looking up into the sky, bringing the ball up over his head and firing away—kind of a reverse long-snapping drill. Kind of like a chopping-wood motion on your back.
Every kid who’s ever touched a football has tried kicking and long snapping. Butts wasn’t fully immersed into long snapping until he attended an Episcopal Academy football camp in the fifth grade, and one of the coaches, Episcopal teacher Brendan Fitzpatrick, showed Butts the rudimentary technique of long snapping.
“I love doing it, but when I first started, I wasn’t a natural at it,” admitted Butts, a first-team all-Inter-Academic League choice last season as a defensive end and tight end. “I did it with one hand and I wasn’t doing it right. Through time I kept at it and worked on it. I think it’s something not a lot of kids work on, and it kind of separates me a little from the pack, because it is something unique that I can do. It can be a little stressful at times on punts and extra points.”
It’s what sold Virginia on Butts. It’s also why Stanford, Temple and Rutgers were attracted to him.
He really wasn’t that hard of a sell, however. He carries a 3.6 GPA and has emerged as a monster on the field. He creates chaos as a defensive end, with his length, how he uses leverage and with his tenacity. Offensively, he’s been used in the slot, at tight end, and anywhere else Churchmen coach Todd Fairlie could place him on the field.
The Churchmen are 4-0 and have won 14-straight games over the last two years, which is currently the longest winning streak in Southeastern Pennsylvania. It’s the second-longest winning streak in school history, behind the 17-game winning streak dating back to the 1927-28 seasons.
The Episcopal program has undergone a metamorphosis under Fairlie over these last three years. The program went from 3-7 two years ago, to 10-0 last year and winning its first outright Inter-Ac title since 1982 with a nucleus of 18 seniors, to beginning this season 4-0. A three-year starter, Butts has been a major reason why that success has continued.
“Evan is the total package,” Fairlie said. “It’s funny, because his parents kept thanking me for helping get Evan into Virginia, but that really wasn’t hard at all. The kid is an easy sell. He’s really driven and he works hard at everything, especially long snapping.
“Most of the college coaches that came in tried to sell Evan on that. And they all said the same thing to Evan, he can make it to the NFL and snapping on Sundays. Evan heard it a lot. Stanford coaches came out and they liked him. They said he was an elite snapper and he had a chance to play for them, but they didn’t have any specialty scholarships for long snapping.”
Butts knows the pressure involved with this season. Knocking off the defending champion Churchmen is the aim of every Inter-Ac team this season.
“We played some tough teams and we realize we have a tough road ahead of us,” Butts said. “The seniors last year started the winning tradition and we carry the weight of keeping the tradition going and being the defending Inter-Ac champions. It is on your mind. Our goal is to be perfect this year and I have faith we can do that.”
In the meantime, Butts will continue working on his unique ability and keep “getting some strange looks, I’m pretty sure, from people who go by. Think about it, how many people do you see doing long-snapping drills lying on their back in their backyard?”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.