Dick Butkus was a legendary Linebacker from the mean streets of Chicago that played college football at Illinois. He was drafted by the hometown Chicago Bears and history was born. In the old days, when you thought of the Chicago Bears you thought of the Monsters of the Midway and Dick Butkus.
Dick Butkus was a terror for Running Backs in the NFL. His name became something related to Linebackers, hard hitting and pain.
In 1985, the powers that be started a trophy for college football’s best Linebacker. In 2008, they expanded that award to include the NFL and High School.
Here are the first Award winners from the High School ranks:
2008 Manti Te’o – Penahou High School Honolulu, Hawaii: Te’o’s story is well known to most. He signed with Notre Dame and led the Fighting Irish into the national title game against Alabama where they were crushed. Te’o won the high school Butkus Award and then he won it again at Notre Dame in 2012. He was also a consensus All American. He also won the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, Walter Camp Award, the Bronko Nagurski Award as well as finishing as runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Amazingly, he was also an Academic All American.
Unfortunately, Mante Te’o is most famous for the girlfriend hoax which is really tragic because he’s a really good football player. Te’o was drafted in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft by the San Diego
Chargers. He has had some injury problems in the NFL, but he still plays for the Chargers.
2009 Jordan Hicks – Lakota West High School West Chester, Ohio: Hicks was a 5 star recruit and wanted by every college coach in the known world. He finally decided on the Texas Longhorns and signed with them. Hicks played a lot as a true freshman and started towards the end of the season and optimism was high. As a sophomore, Hicks was the Longhorns best player on defense, but he was injured part way through the season. During his junior year, he was also a difference maker on defense and a team leader. But, he was injured once more and had to miss the second half of the season. Under new head coach Charlie Strong in 2014, Hicks had new life and he made the best of it leading the Horns in tackles in 2014.
Because of a history of injury problems, Hicks fell to the 3rd round of the draft where he was picked
by the Philadelphia Eagles. As an Eagle, he quickly moved into the starting lineup and led the team in tackles before once again being injured and lost for the season. Hicks is a great player when injury free.
2010 Tony Steward – Pedro Menendez High School St Augustine, Florida: Steward was ranked as the top Outside Linebacker in his recruiting class when he signed with the Clemson Tigers. He played as a true freshman, but was a back up. He injured his knee severely in 2011, but eventually bounced back. He was 4th on the team in tackles during his senior year in 2014. The Buffalo Bills, who seem to have a thing for Clemson players, took Steward in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
In Buffalo, he was injured and then released. He was picked up by New England, but is now with the New Orleans Saints. He is 6-1, 240 or so, and he may yet still make it in the NFL.
2011 Noor Davis – Leesburg, Florida: Chris Davis, the father of Noor, played in the NFL and Noor Davis is the nephew of the legendary Andre Tippett. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Tippett was a long time Linebacker for the New England Patriots. Noor Davis signed with Stanford out of high school. Davis has all of the tools, but he has had little time on the field as a career back up at Stanford. He is listed as a back up for 2016, and this is his last shot at making it big. The Cardinal usually has a tough defense and Davis will probably play a lot this season.
2012 Jaylon Smith – Bishop Luers High School Fort Wayne, Indiana: Another Butkus Award winner
that wound up at Notre Dame. Smith was the best Linebacker in college football last season and was an All American. He led the Irish in tackles the past two seasons after finishing 3rd on the team in his true freshman season. In the 2015 season, Smith became the 2nd player to win both the High School version of the Butkus and the college version. Both winners, obviously, played Linebacker for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Smith was regarded as an early draft pick, but he tore up his knee badly in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State and his stock dropped somewhat. The Dallas Cowboys were only too happy to take him with their early 2nd round pick, but he may have to sit out at least one year before playing in the NFL. If he recovers fully to what he was in college, it will be worth the wait.
2013 Raekwon McMillan – Liberty County High School Hinesville, Georgia: McMillan was one of the top recruits in the country in the 2014 class and the Georgia native decided on going North to play for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He played a lot as a true freshman on the Buckeye’s national championship team and then he started all season in 2015 at Middle Linebacker in the Buckeyes 4-3 defense. The very physical Linebacker should be one of the favorites to win the Butkus at Ohio State in the 2016 season and then declare for the NFL Draft.
2014 Malik Jefferson – Ralph Poteet High School Mesquite, Texas: One of the most highly recruited players in the country, Malik Jefferson signed with the home state Texas Longhorns. He was an early enrollee and started in the Spring Game and then the entire 2015 season, or until he was lost for the
season due to injury.
Jefferson is a team leader and one of the Longhorns best players for the 2016 season where he is slated to start at Middle Linebacker. If the Longhorns had somebody else for the middle, Jefferson could move back to his more natural Outside Linebacker position.
Jefferson is something of a Pied Piper for the Longhorns and other players naturally follow him.
2015 Caleb Kelly – Clovis West High School Fresno, California: Kelly picked the Oklahoma Sooners over Notre Dame and Oregon and signed with them in February.
Kelly is a little on the smaller side when compared with some of the above Linebackers at about 6-2, 210. But, his game is built on speed. He was a huge pick up for the Sooners and for the Big 12 Conference as a whole.
Check back in September and see if he is in the starting lineup as a true freshman and he very well could be judging from the other Butkus Award winners.