By Zac Ellis
Vanderbilt’s Adam Butler approached the 2017 NFL draft hoping to hear his name called as a late-round pick. But after three days, seven rounds and 253 picks, the draft came and went without acknowledging the former Commodores’ defensive lineman.
With Butler’s football future less than certain, he began considering a handful of free agents deals from NFL teams. One such offer stemmed from the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Pats’ coach Bill Belichick had sat down with Butler during Vanderbilt’s pro day in Nashville that spring, and the Commodore came away from that conversation intrigued by an opportunity from New England.
Ultimately, Butler chose to sign with the Patriots, and he assured his family that he wouldn’t waste his shot at the NFL.
“At that point, my parents asked me, ‘What are you going to do now?’” Butler said in a phone interview this week from Foxborough, Mass. “I said, ‘I’m going to go up there, give it everything I’ve got and make the team.’ And here I am.”
Butler backed up that talk during his rookie season with the Patriots. He has played in 16 games and started six, collecting 19 tackles and two sacks. On Sunday, when the Patriots face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, Butler will become the first Vanderbilt player on a Super Bowl team since Jonathan Krause with the Patriots in 2015. When Butler enters the game, he’ll be the first Commodore since Hunter Hillenmeyer in 2007 to play in a Super Bowl.
Butler now hopes to earn his own Super Bowl ring, but he also said it’s important to represent Vanderbilt on football’s biggest stage.
“It means everything,” Butler said. “I love Vanderbilt. I love that university. They gave me an opportunity and embraced me with open arms.”
Butler, a Duncanville, Texas native, was a key piece of Vanderbilt interior defensive line during his college career. His best season came as a senior in 2016, when he started 13 games at both tackle and end and recorded 31 total tackles, 18 solo stops, 7.5 tackles for loss and a team-high four sacks.
Despite his SEC experience, Butler still remembers his “welcome to the NFL” moment.
“When I first got double-teamed by [offensive linemen] Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason in practice,” Butler said with a laugh. “Other than that, it was probably the first time running out of the tunnel wearing a Patriots uniform. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
When the Patriots punched their tickets to the Super Bowl, Butler’s phone immediately buzzed with calls and texts. Many came from his former Vanderbilt teammates, coaches and support staffers like linebacker Oren Burks and defensive line coach C.J. Ah You.
Butler knows he will not only represent the Patriots in Super Bowl LII; he will have all of Commodore Nation rooting for him, as well.
“My first goal is to win, obviously,” Butler said. “My individual goal is to just walk off the field and say I did everything I could to put my team in a position to win. This is the most critical game of the season. The team that’s closet to perfect will most likely win the game.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.