ATHENS — Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of one of the most memorable moments in Georgia football history, but punter Drew Butler was hardly familiar with the play that made his father, Kevin, a household name.
It wasn’t until Drew Butler was at Georgia, watching the pregame montage of highlights on the scoreboard, that he first watched his father’s school-record 60-yard field goal that helped beat Clemson in 1984.
“I’ve seen it on TV a few times since then, and it was a pretty cool kick, something pretty special,” Butler said of his father’s famous kick.
The younger Butler is racking up a few highlights of his own in his first season as Georgia’s punter, netting 47.3 yards per kick so far this season — the best average in the country.
Against Arkansas last week, Butler was the star of the special teams, averaging 55 yards per kick, including a 64-yard bomb that swung field position at a crucial moment in the fourth quarter that helped the Bulldogs secure a win in a back-and-forth game.
Butler isn’t sure how long fans will remember the punt, but he likes that the timing overlapped with his father’s 60-yarder.
“Somebody told me that on ESPN, they played the replay (of Kevin Butler’s kick),” Butler said. “Maybe they can relate that 60-something-yard punt to his kick, but that probably wouldn’t be as impressive a play.”
It may not have been quite as impressive, but it was important for the Bulldogs.
While kickoffs have been erratic, the offense has been turnover prone, and the defense has struggled, Butler’s punts have been a constant for Georgia through three games.
In an opening-week loss to Oklahoma State, Butler averaged 57 yards per punt to help keep the Bulldogs in the game despite a lackluster offensive performance.
Butler’s leg remained strong in the next two weeks, culminating with his big punt to ice the win over Arkansas. In 11 tries this season, he has left the opposition pinned inside the 20 five times, helping swing field position for a Bulldogs’ defense that has played on a short field far too often.
“What can you say other than he’s been fantastic,” head coach Mark Richt said.
Of course, the addition to the family legacy might have never happened had Butler’s high school team not found itself in desperate need of a kicker.
Despite his father’s successful history, both at Georgia and in the NFL, Drew Butler didn’t have much interest in kicking. Growing up, he played golf and soccer, but it wasn’t until his sophomore year that he realized he might want to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Peachtree Ridge had just started its football program, and it had lost a couple of games early because of some missed extra points. The coaching staff came to Butler and asked if he’d be interested in taking over the job.
“I was always able to kick the ball about 20 yards,” Butler said, “so I figured I should just go out for the team.”
As fate would have it, Kevin Butler was getting back into the kicking game at the same time.
After seven years away from football, the elder Butler decided to try a comeback with the Georgia Force arena team. While Drew and Kevin Butler had always talked football, suddenly they were working on their craft together.
“He had some stint where he tried out for the Georgia Force and we were just fooling around,” Drew Butler said. “But once 10th grade started, we just had a working relationship on the football field.”
Drew Butler handled both kicking and punting duties for Peachtree Ridge, but he quickly realized that his natural strength was punting.
By the end of his junior season, Butler had created his own niche as the state’s top punter, and suddenly his future looked bright.
“I was a little more consistent at it, and that’s just what I felt stronger at,” Butler said. “After my junior year, I kind of realized that I had college talent, and I took advantage of that.”
Butler signed with Georgia, spending most of his first two seasons watching from the sideline. He booted three punts last season as a redshirt freshman, and Butler said the experience helped prepare him for taking over the starting job this year.
So far, the transition has been seamless, but that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.
Despite the booming kicks, Richt said he’d like to see a bit more hang time from Butler – even if that’s a hefty request from a punter playing so well.
“We’ve got to continue to be conscious of the hang time and not be too enamored with the distance,” Richt said. “That’s hard to do when you’re leading the country in that category.”
But Butler knows how fleeting success can be. His father has taught him plenty of lessons about the game, both on and off the field.
So Butler is taking Richt’s advice to heart, and the hard work hasn’t slowed just because he’s currently the nation’s top punter.
“I’m sure the numbers tell one story, but you’ve got to stay level and keep improving every week,” Butler said. “I can’t let the highs get too high and the lows get too low.”