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Army wins recruiting battle for Byrd's Nikai Butler

Fayetteville Observer - 1/11/2019

Jan. 11--Mike Paroli recognized there was something special about Nikai Butler soon after taking over as head football coach at Douglas Byrd High three years ago.

"As a football player, he had good size as a sophomore, but mostly there was something (special) about the kind of kid he was," Paroli said. "He was such a great student and a hard worker that you knew he'd overcome any obstacles and be someone who could be a college athlete."

The latter projection has become reality for the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Butler, who has made a verbal commitment to play for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Butler, whose father is a U.S. Army veteran, visited the West Point campus with his family in November as the Cadets were in the midst of an historic 11-2 finish this season.

Under coach Jeff Monken, Army defeated Navy in their annual matchup for a second straight season, then routed Houston, 70-14, in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Cadets were ranked 19th in the final Top 25 poll compiled by The Associated Press.

Butler is a three-year varsity starter for the Eagles. He earned All-Patriot 3-A Athletic Conference status as a junior linebacker, then repeated that honor as a defensive lineman this season. Butler was also a first-team pick for The Fayetteville Observer's Best of 910preps.com all-region team as a senior.

Paroli said the Army coaching staff envisions using Butler on the defensive line after he spends next fall at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School.

Butler was initially being recruited to Army by defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, who has since moved on to the same position at North Carolina.

"From what I understand, Coach Bateman did a lot of things with kids to use their abilities as both a linebacker and a defensive end," Paroli said. "Hopefully, they'll continue that. Nikai fits that kind of system. He's a good, smart, technique-oriented football player. He's tough and he gets by with things sometimes because of his intelligence."

That intelligence isn't limited to the football field. Paroli said "last time I checked" Butler ranks No. 10 in his class academically at Douglas Byrd and "he's never made a B in high school. Straight As and he doesn't even come close to making a B."

Butler becomes the seventh senior player from a Cape Fear region high school to commit to a Football Bowl Subdivision program. He joins Trinity Christian linebacker Quewon Hilliard (Coastal Carolina), Cape Fear linebacker Jaylen Hudson (Wake Forest), Trinity Christian offensive lineman Zovon Lindsay (N.C. State), South View receiver Emery Simmons (North Carolina), Fairmont safety Jordan Waters (Duke) and Whiteville offensive lineman Donnell Wilson (Coastal Carolina), who all signed a binding national letter of intent to their schools during the early signing period in December.

Staff writer Sammy Batten can be reached at sbatten@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3534.

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