Panthers coach Ron Rivera played with Kevin Butler on the Chicago Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl-winning team.
He might get a chance to coach Butler’s son.
A month after cutting punter Jason Baker in a move dictated by the salary cap, the Panthers are weighing their punting options. General manager Marty Hurney said the Panthers could take a punter in next week’s draft, or add a veteran or undrafted free agent afterward.
Butler called Rivera recently to put in a good word for his son, Drew Butler, the former Georgia standout and one of the top punters in the draft.
“I’m not going to call up and put good words in for the other guys,” Kevin Butler said Friday.
“Typical dad, he called me,” said Rivera, smiling. “I said, ‘Kevin, honestly we’re just going to react to what happens.’ And he understood. We had a great conversation about his young man. He just said he thought he was a pretty special kid.”
Drew Butler was born in 1989 in Chicago, where his father kicked for 11 seasons before finishing his career with Arizona in 1997. After the family moved to suburban Atlanta in 2000, Drew spent a lot of time golfing at nearby TPC Sugarloaf; the only kicking he did was on a soccer field.
But before his freshman year of high school, he announced at the dinner table one night that he wanted to try football. Kevin nearly dropped his fork.
“Well, good luck,” he told his son. “You’re going to get crushed down. You don’t even know how to get into a 3-point stance.”
The two started kicking together, but it was clear early on that Drew was a more natural punter. So his dad sent him to a camp run by longtime Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy, who like Kevin, is a Georgia native.
Drew Butler received scholarship offers from Wake Forest and Duke to punt and kick. Georgia, where his father was an All-American, initially wanted Drew to walk on before offering him a scholarship as a punter.
A starter since his sophomore year, Butler produced three of the top five punting seasons in Georgia history. He won the Ray Guy Award after averaging 48 yards a punt in 2009, and his career average of 45.4 yards ranks first all-time at Georgia and fifth in NCAA history.
Good thing he was successful: His father hosts the pregame and postgame radio shows for Georgia home games.
“So I’ve been critiquing him to the public and to the fans for four years,” Kevin Butler said. “It would have been a tough situation had he been a place-kicker because I think the comparison always, certainly at the University of Georgia, would have been the father-son comparison. I don’t know if that gets stressful. But I guarantee you for a young man it would get old kind of quick.”
After punting at the combine and Georgia’s pro day, Drew Butler had private workouts for six NFL teams, including the Panthers. Only one punter was drafted last year: Atlanta picked Miami’s Matt Bosher in the sixth round.
Butler said his agent, Deryk Gilmore, believes he could be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Butler can punt for distance and hang time: Only 38 percent of his 167 punts at Georgia were returned, and a third traveled 50 yards or more.
“The coaches know what they’re going to get. They know what I’ve accomplished and that’s what’s going to take it to the next level, and then it’s up to me,” Butler said. “ I think they can trust that I’ll be that guy that they’re going to be able to rely on for the next 10 or 15 years.”
Kevin Butler played 13 NFL seasons, the final two with the Cardinals. He is proud of his son for choosing a similar, but different kicking path.
“He’s his own person,” Kevin said. “It’s pretty cool to look in the record book now and see my name under the place-kicking and see my son’s name in the punting. It’s a dream I think every father thinks about. But the stars have to align for something like this to happen, and it just doesn’t a whole lot.”
Kevin jokingly tells his son he doesn’t have the mental fortitude to be a kicker. Drew silences his father by taking him to the golf course, where the two will be the morning of April 28 before the final four rounds of the draft unfold.
Drew points out he is a 4-handicapper; Kevin is a 9.
“He and I have had a lot of battles on the golf course that have challenged me in that (mental toughness) area,” Drew said. “And I don’t think I’m lacking at all.”