What was telling about Butler's production was the fact the he came off the bench. Seniors Shakeil Lucas and Justin Ellis were the starting defensive tackles, but Butler was good enough and versatile enough to get plenty of playing time behind both of them.
Butler was recruited as a defensive end out of North Pike High School in the McComb, MS area. With great depth inside, Tech fans envisioned a big 290-pound defensive end teaming up with Lucas, Ellis, and Defensive End IK Enempkali. Now at 309 pounds, it's obvious Butler belongs on the inside.
Not only is Butler next in line to start at defensive tackle for the Bulldogs, he is also next in line for the NFL draft. Louisiana Tech is no stranger to putting defensive linemen in the draft. Fred Dean went to the chargers in the 2nd Round in 1975, D'Anthony Smith went in the 3rd round to the Jaguars in 2010, and Eliis (4th round) and Enempkali (6th round) were drafted last year. Matt Broha went undrafted in 2012 and spent time with the New York Giants in 2012 and 2013. Broha never cracked the roster, but he got really close.
While Butler will get most of the attention on the defensive line, he is joined by fellow juniors Malcolm Pichon (6-3 336) and Vontarius Dora (6-4 253) in the starting lineup. Illinois transfer Houston Bates will be the other starter at defensive end. Tech has some really promising young guys in the mix too. Redshirt Freshman Hakim Gray (6-3 269) is another really big defensive end like Butler and could follow Butler to the inside.
Former Defensive Line Coach Stan Eggen disproved the notion that a smaller school like Louisiana Tech could not land NFL caliber defensive linemen. The thought has always been that there aren't enough of them to go around, in SEC country especially; they are going to get gobbled up by the bigger schools.
Head Coach Skip Holtz, Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz, and Defensive Line Coach Oscar Giles are blowing that thinking out of the water. After last year's impressive haul, they already have three more defensive linemen committed and will probably end up with one or two more.
What's to be expected of Vernon Butler in 2014? Did he benefit from the other team having to pay extra attention to Ellis and Enempkali? Of course he did, but he has plenty of help this year too. Pichon and senior DeAngelo Brooks will command their share of double teams inside, and Bates (12 Tackles for Loss, 3.5 Sacks at Illinois) will garner plenty of attention.
Despite weighing 309 pounds, Butler is one of the most athletic players on the team and he will be a handful in Conference USA. He will be leaned on heavily to make plays in the opener against Oklahoma this year. Oklahoma has returning starter Nila Kasitati at one guard spot and 339-pound senior Dionte Savage at the other.
Butler should have a great year and he will be fun to watch for Louisiana Tech fans. By the time he finishes his career in Ruston, Butler will be remembered as one of the greats. Remember the name Vernon Butler when you watch the NFL draft in 2016.