Gallagher column: Motown Matt looking forward to camp
The kid from the small town is ready to turn into a big city boy.
Matt Butler is trading Salisbury for Detroit, where the Lions’ training camp begins Wednesday. He wants to make the final roster and play for fans he can relate to.
Butler sees himself in every single person who comes off the assembly lines at General Motors or Ford or Chrysler. They’re blue-collar. They’re hard-working.
Butler has already proven he’s a player they can embrace.
The offensive lineman got a free agent rookie tryout and blew away the Lions’ brass with his tenacity and toughness. He went to a mandatory camp from May 22 to June 21, mainly to learn the playbook.
Now, the real deal. This training camp will decide whether Butler will get to wear his silver and blue No. 62 jersey on Sept. 7 when Detroit travels to Atlanta for the season opener.
Butler is leaving Salisbury, a town of 30,000, where the tallest building is the 10-story prison, to Detroit, which has a population of 918,849. It has a hotel that rises 63 stories higher than our lock-up.
Going small to big will not be a problem for Butler. Motown Matt has already learned to love the place.
“You’ve got the Pistons and the Tigers and the Red Wings, but Detroit is a football town,” said Butler, who took in a recent Tigers game. “The fans are great. And to me, the city is great.”
Butler would like nothing better than to run out for the first home game Sept. 14 against the Green Bay Packers.
“Playing at Ford Field in front of those fans would be awesome,” Butler said. “I want to play for them.”
Butler’s initial two trips to Michigan were like night and day.
“The first time, at rookie camp, I just tried to make a name for myself,” Butler said. “The second time, I felt more comfortable because I’d been there and seen the facilities. I felt more a part of the team. I met a few of the guys at rookie camp but I met the whole team the next time.”
The 6-foot-5, 307-pound right guard from East Carolina can hardly wait for Wednesday.
“The first day, we’re putting on full pads in the morning,” Butler grinned, “and we’re getting after it. I haven’t put pads on since (East Carolina’s) Hawaii Bowl victory. So I’m really looking forward to that.”
Butler was looking forward to being drafted, but instead had to hope for a free agent contract. He knows he’s looked at as a long shot.
“I guess you could say that, considering where I came from,” he said. “I always say, just keep working hard and good things will happen.”
Butler is impressed with the offensive line he is joining.
“I think they’ve got great talent,” he said. “We’ve got a great offensive line.”
Butler could give that line some versatility. Besides being a right guard, he can move under center, where he played 10 games as a junior at East Carolina.
“It’s a business up there,” he said. “You just worry about improving.”
Butler has heard of people coming out of the woodwork once you make it to the professional ranks. It has already happened to him.
“Sometimes, I can remember who they are,” he laughed. “They ask how I’m doing and then say, ‘Can you get me some tickets?’ I guess that’s to be expected.”
Most of the ticket requests are for the Lions’ Nov. 16th game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
If he is with the Lions then, that would only add to his NFL dream. Butler played at Bank of America as a freshman against North Carolina State, “but playing against the Panthers would be amazing,” he said.
He will surely be in action on Aug. 7 in the preseason opener at Ford Field when the Lions welcome the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Butler dreams of games like that, of hearing the people of his new city cheering him and his teammates on. He is asked about being on Madden 2009. He knows of the money that can be made by playing a sport he adores.
It’s up to him to make the dream a reality.
“I’m only nervous about my performance, because that’s what I can control,” he said.
When Butler graduated from Salisbury High in 2003, there was no interest from colleges. So he walked on at ECU. He was a very long shot. But he started the last 39 games of his career.
When Butler left East Carolina, there was no interest in the draft. So he became a free agent ó again, a very long shot. And on Wednesday, he tries to prove himself all over.
“There were a lot of obstacles I had to overcome,” he said. “I know not many people can get where I am. I’m just trying to learn the plays and do the best I can.”
Butler walked into the Salisbury weight room last week as current Hornets gawked at the monstrous professional football player in their midst. He hopes that soon, those players, as well as many other football fans in Salisbury, will be buying silver and blue jerseys ó preferably No. 62.
“I don’t know too many Detroit Lions fans down here,” Butler chuckled. “They’re either Panther or Falcon fans. So I hope to bring some Detroit pride to North Carolina.”
After some lean years in the Motor City, Lions fans want an annual Super Bowl contender. And who better to help the big city realize that dream than a kid from small-town Salisbury who has big dreams of his own.
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.