by Kristin Watkins
Virginia tight end Evan Butts is well known for his play on the football field, but he has a few hidden talents that have helped shape him into the person he is today. One of them dates back to his high school days.
“I went to a school that required you play a sport for each season so it pushed me to play a sport that I never had before,” Butts said. “They encouraged that we try different things so that is how I was put in the position to try a lot of different sports. I played football and I could not play football for two teams so I decided to try water polo. I figured that would be something different and still be good exercise to stay in shape for football. My school was also pretty big in lacrosse so I tried that out and enjoyed it. I have played baseball and always had played basketball.”
Butts admits that playing football under head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s system is not easy, but water polo practice is not far off.
“Water polo definitely kept me in shape,” Butts said. “In that sport, you have to tread water the whole time, you can’t touch the bottom of the pool so you are swimming for the entirety of the game. I was not a huge swimmer so that really helped me get in shape. I felt like I put on a little bit more muscle in that time period.
“For practice, we did a lot of swimming, we had to swim laps and spend time treading water. I was not a swimmer so they put me in as the goalie, but that was a lot of water I had to tread. A lot of the pools you play in, to force people to stand, they are deep at both ends. Whether you are a goalie or not you still had to tread water for the whole game. There was a lot of swimming, treading, trying to push your body out of the water so you could throw the ball and shoot the ball over your opponent. It is a physical sport too. Guys are pulling you down underneath the water so it is tough.”
While water polo is not a sport Butts plans to pursue, being around the water has always been something he has enjoyed. That love has translated into a hobby he and his teammates share off the field.
“Whenever we go to coach Mendenhall’s house we like to go fishing,” Butts said. “He has horses, a pool, a huge pond so that is something that a lot of us enjoy. The whole team jokes that running backs coach (Mark) Autuia is there two or three times a week, so he really enjoys that. I enjoy fishing with the team when we go over there. Also, in my own free time I like to go to the beach and when I go there we go fishing.”
Being able to spend time as a team outside of practice has forged a bond with the team that Butts equates to being a family.
“He has an open invite to his house,” Butts said. “Coach does not just say family first, it is a reality. He always has an open invite to us. There are certain times of the year he invites us all out. And we will go in groups too. One night the offense will go and one night the defensive guys go. If we have recruits we go over there. This is a family. It is not just football here. You don’t just interact with coaches at practice, you interact outside of here. It is a family.”
That family attitude can also be seen each Thursday, when the team gets together to brighten people’s day through Thursday’s Hero. Butts’ involvement in the program became even greater when another of his talents was discovered.
“It was not my idea, but I was approached by Gerry Capone (associate athletics director for football administration) and the guys that run the program about being willing to dress up as Captain America,” Butts said. “It was an easy decision, I said I would absolutely do that. It blew up a little bit, people started calling me Captain America. It was funny, it is all in good fun. Doing it the first time and several times after that, seeing the looks on the kid’s faces and the families, it really brings a good feeling that I can have a positive impact on other people. I enjoy bringing smiles to their faces as they are going through adversity. I am excited for the next appearance of Captain America, whenever that may be.”
Whether it is playing water polo or donning his Captain America gear, Butts has developed a wide-range of talents that he can carry with him no matter where life takes him.