Sports columnist Chad Leistikow talks with Danny Lawhon as they look ahead at the Iowa Hawkeyes' match up against the Purdue Boilermakers. Michael Zamora/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — James Butler’s one year at his “dream school” was derailed by an elbow injury.
He never got on track as an Iowa running back, showing fans only glimpses of the star player he was at Nevada.
Now it’s coming to an end, with his final Kinnick Stadium game set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Purdue. It will be a bittersweet Senior Day for the one-and-done Hawkeye senior.
So why was Butler still flashing his ever-present smile this week?
“No regrets. Never,” Butler said when asked if he second-guesses his decision to leave Nevada, where he was a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, to come to Iowa as Akrum Wadley’s backup. “Every decision I’ve ever made, I’ve known that at the end of the day it was mine, and I’ve got to stick to it, no matter what.”
Butler, who has only 335 yards from scrimmage in the six games he’s been able to play, pointed to a number of memories he’ll cherish from this disrupted season.
First, just the chance to swarm onto the field at Kinnick, a lifelong dream for a Chicago-area kid who grew up coming to Hawkeye games.
Second, his mother, Cornelia Williams, has been able to make it to every one of his games this season, something that never would have been possible at Nevada.
Third, Butler can say that he was on a team that beat Ohio State, something Iowa accomplished emphatically two weeks ago with a 55-24 home win. He’ll be able to tell his children about that, Butler said.
That victory pushed the Hawkeyes briefly into the national rankings, at No. 25 in the Associated Press poll. Butler had never been on a ranked team before.
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Along the way, Butler had his moments. A 26-yard pass reception at Iowa State. A 53-yard run against the Buckeyes.
It’s just that there weren’t as many as he had envisioned.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve played up to my full potential. I’m disappointed personally in my play,” Butler said. “I wish I could have helped the team more.”
Butler wouldn’t use his injury as an excuse, although that certainly was a factor. He had 74 rushing yards in a Week 3 win over North Texas when he went down with the right elbow injury. That kept him out of the next four games, three of them Hawkeye losses. When Butler did re-emerge, it was with a balky brace on his elbow that has inhibited his play.
Butler could have skipped the rest of the season and applied for a medical redshirt. That would have given him one more autumn as a Hawkeye.
“It was 50-50 right up until the day I saw I could still play with the brace on and there wasn’t any pain in my elbow,” he said. “I felt like if I could play, I’d want to help this team win as much as possible.”
Iowa has won two of the three games since Butler returned to sit at 6-4 heading into the home finale against 4-6 Purdue. Butler will get a chance to play in a second bowl game,, too.
But first comes another Senior Day, one Butler initially assumed would happen at Nevada.
“I remember in high school, I was a little upset about it,” Butler said of the end of that chapter of his life at St. Francis in Wheaton, Illinois. “I’m going to have the same people out there (Saturday). … It’s going to be a lot of emotions going around.”
And a chance to add a treasured photo to his mother’s collection. His high school Senior Day picture sits on Williams’ kitchen table.
“I see it every time I go home,” Butler said. “She’s got that picture right next to my degree.”