By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — It only lasted a moment.
It looked scary at first. Unatego senior Tyler Butler headed left before cutting it up, a daring dash in heavy traffic that looked like it might result in a touchdown. But a Walton defender inadvertently stuck his hand in Butler’s facemask. At that moment, Butler’s helmet spun 180 degrees on his head as he wound up on the seat of his pants around Walton’s 5-yard line. In that second or two, he looked like Linda Blair in The Exorcist — body pointing one way and head appearing to be going the opposite way.
But thoughts of a serious injury quickly gave way to a light chuckle as Butler popped up and turned his helmet in the proper direction on his way back to the Spartans’ huddle.
The young man knows of only one way to play football — at 100 mph — and he showed it often on that September night at Unatego, throwing for 164 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing for 122 more yards.
Butler treated his body like he had a spare in his closet at home.
“He was our quarterback but in a linebacker’s mentality and body,” Unatego coach Frank Microni said of Butler, The Daily Star’s Player of the Year for 2012. “He was a First Team all-state strong safety on defense. He played tough defense and carried the ball that way. He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve coached. He took a beating against Tioga (a season-ending, 26-21 loss in a Section Four Class D semifinal), but he just would not relent. He just kept going and going.”
Be it as an ultra-physical safety or a strong-armed and fleet-footed quarterback, Butler hit, threw and ran the Spartans to a 6-3 record that was a lot better than it sounds.
One of the squads that defeated Unatego was neighboring Sidney. Its coach, Jeff Matthews, was named The Daily Star’s Coach of the Year for the fifth time, most recently in 2006.
At 6 feet and 200 pounds, Butler amassed impressive totals. He rushed 724 yards on 80 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. He also completed 53 of 105 passes for 904 yards and nine TDs. Defensively, he made 70 tackles, intercepted two passes, forced six fumbles and recovered four.
While the physical brand of football he played over the last three seasons as a Spartans starter was apparent even to the novice fan, Microni said his understanding of Unatego’s complicated spread offense proved equally important.
“He definitely has a football mind,” Microni said of Butler, Unatego’s first Daily Star Player of the Year since Tosh DeMulder in 2003. “In that offense, he had a read on every play be it run or pass. If it is run, it went as far as two or three reads and he could deliver the mail.”
Added Butler: “There was a lot to learn, but I’ve learned it over the last five years. Everything is kind of on my shoulders. I’m kind of a coach on the field.”
Perhaps Butler’s best read of the season came on a play that didn’t count.
In the third quarter of the Section Four Class D semifinal against Tioga, Butler followed speedy backfield mate David VanAlstine toward the right side of the line. As a tackler moved in on VanAlstine, Butler pulled the ball back and headed free up the right sideline at Binghamton Alumni Stadium. Butler sold the fake so well that an official whistled VanAlstine — a Daily Star First Team running back — down even though he didn’t have the ball.
That whistle negated what would have been a 53-yard scoring play — a huge call as Unatego wound up losing by five points to a Tioga squad that advanced to the Class D state semifinals.
“It seems every day somebody brings it up,” said Butler, who threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jon Wingate in that season-ending loss. “I’ve had people come up to me at Walmart in Binghamton and ask me about that play.
“There was nobody around me,” he continued. “I’ve watched that film too many times.”
Butler will play for Alfred State in the fall. He’s been recruited to play quarterback.
“I’m going to miss playing both ways,” Butler said. “I like to hit people.”
Matthews guided a Sidney squad that joined the ranks of the very best among Section Four Class C teams in 2012. The Warriors used to a bruising brand of football to finish with a 6-3 record that included narrow losses to Class C kingpins Chenango Forks and Waverly.
Forks, which advanced to the Class C state semifinals, needed a touchdown in the final minute to beat the Warriors, 31-30, on a muddy track at Sidney in October.
Waverly ended Sidney’s season with a 17-13 victory in a sectional semifinal.
The Warriors also overcame a season-ending injury to two-way standout Damian Zimmer during the loss to Forks.
Daily Star First Team All-Stars Nate McDonald, Austin Dean, Collin Brandl, Brandon Walters and Billy Kozak led the way on a Warriors roster that included 15 seniors — McDonald, Brandl and Walters among them.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.