Jon Cooper | The Good Word
What a difference a year makes for Harrison Butker.
Last year at this time, the Decatur native was fresh off of participating in rookie minicamp with the Carolina Panthers, who had just selected him in the seventh round of the 2017 National Football League Draft. The expectation was to show how he compiled his resume as kicker for four years at Georgia Tech, where he left as the school's all-time leading scorer (337 points), while looking to secure a spot as the Panthers' kicker.
This year, Butker is preparing to fly to Kansas City, where he has cemented a role as the Chiefs' kicker. While he can still refer to his Georgia Tech exploits, his primary focus will be improving on a record-breaking rookie season.
Butker was drafted by Carolina with the No. 233 overall pick in last April's draft and was supposed to challenge and maybe even unseat eight-year veteran Graham Gano. Instead, his presence inspired Gano, who'd actually go on to make his first Pro Bowl in 2017. Despite not winning the starting job, Butker did stick around with the Panthers, as they thought highly enough of the rookie challenger to add him to their practice squad.
But following Week 3 of the regular season, the Chiefs claimed Butker off the Panthers' practice squad to replace injured kicker Cairo Santos. The former Yellow Jacket debuted on Oct. 2, against Washington, on Monday Night Football.
"It's crazy. I was nervous before, in the hotel room," he recalled. "When I got out there, doing the warm-up, I was like, `Okay, this is just normal kicking.' After the warmup I was very comfortable and settled in. Then I went out there for the first field goal. It happened so fast. It just went by like that. Unfortunately, I missed it."
The kick, a 46-yard attempt with 10 seconds left in first half with Washington up, 10-7, missed wide, but after getting the first miss out of the way, he did what what he's pretty much always done -- make kicks.
"I felt pretty comfortable going into the rest of the kicks and I made them," he said.
Butker wouldn't miss again that night, nailing all three field goal attempts, including the game-winner -- a 43-yarder with four seconds remaining that broke a 20-20 tie and gave the Chiefs a victory that moved them to 4-0 on the season.
In fact, he wouldn't miss again until he missed a 38-yarder with 10:23 left in the second quarter at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets on Dec. 3. In the seven games in between, Butker made 23-consecutive kicks, a Chiefs' franchise record. He'd go on to set an NFL rookie record by making 38 field goals in 42 tries on the season. He also set a Kansas City franchise mark for field-goal accuracy (.905) and became only the fifth kicker in Chiefs to record 100 points in a season with a whopping 142.
Talk about a dream season!
"It was a dream come true," he said. "You're kicking in the NFL. It's what you've grown up watching. Now you're finally the kicker -- one of 32 kickers in the world on an NFL team.
"Luckily, I had Dustin Colquitt as my holder. He's been in the league 14 years, he knows a ton," he added. "James [Winchester], the snapper, was great, and Coach [Dave] Toub, the special teams coach, and Rod [Wilson], the assistant [special teams coach], everyone there made me feel comfortable. I was able to flourish and be me and do my thing there. I had a good year. So now, hopefully, I can continue that."
Butker got a vote of confidence from the team after the season, as it signed him through 2019. He plans to justify that faith. To that end, he approached this offseason the same way he approached last year's and with the same goal he's had every offseason since he started playing.
"Just getting better," he said. "I had a good season. I think the biggest thing is not being complacent, raising the bar, raising your expectations and that's definitely what I'm going to be doing. Basically putting myself in the best possible position to do as well as I can during the season. The offseason's huge and I'm going to raise the bar and try to keep doing better."
Also this offseason, Butker returned to Georgia Tech for Pro Day and the Yellow Jackets' spring game to offer himself as a resource and to support former teammates.
"I'm wishing them the best and they're doing great," he added. "Luckily, I have my first year under my belt. But now I have to get focused in for this offseason, get back. I'm looking forward to having another good season."