Ahead of Jake Butt's final regular season game of his college career against Ohio State, his mom reflects on raising Michigan's star tight end and his experience playing for the Wolverines.
Did I cry when I watched my oldest son play on Senior Day last week? Not as much as you'd think. The real tears came game one of this season against Hawaii. That day, I scooted down to the front row of the 50-yard line. I just wanted a front row view of Jake coming out of the tunnel as a captain and hitting that banner. I cried the whole first quarter.
Fast forward to Saturday against Indiana, and it's all about the seniors. This is his last game at the Big House. I didn't cry as much as I thought I would because it was so darn cold. The snow was coming and going until it finally decided to just keep coming. But it was a beautiful day because I got to see Jake take it all in. He didn't let a moment pass. He didn't let a snowflake falling or a fumbled ball get by him. He knew it was the last one at the Big House. He's really going to miss that school. So am I.
Now I'm getting ready to watch him play his last regular-season game on Saturday, and he's going to do it just down the road from where he grew up in Pickerington, Ohio. It takes about 15 minutes to drive to Ohio Stadium from there, but it took us more than 21 years to get here. The road to Jake Butt, University of Michigan tight end, began with Jake Butt, massive toddler.
When Jake was three and his twin brothers Andrew and Zac were one, I was talking to my sister. I said, "I know moms say this all the time, but there's something about this kid. I love all these boys, but now that I've got three and can do a little compare and contrast, there's just something different about Jake. Something just a little… bigger." He was huge. I had him tested for the giant gene. I did. I got the genetic tests, and the doctor told me he did not have the Gigantor gene, but he would be a giant. I had to bring his birth certificate through sixth grade. People thought I was one of those moms who kept their kid back until he was 20. My ex-husband Rob gets the credit for the Butt name. That's a beautiful name for a tight end. But I'd like to think the height comes from my side of the family. My dad played on the line for Frank Leahy at Notre Dame. I've got a brother who is 6'7". Another one is 6'4". My sister and I are 6'0".
We tried baseball. It was a little bit too slow-paced for him. He didn't last long with that. But soccer was a huge passion of his for years. He was thinking MLS all day long. He was on these elite teams. He was a center midfielder, and half his goals were headers. He loved it, and I guarantee he's such a great tight end because of soccer. He worked on his footwork almost exclusively from Kindergarten through sixth grade.
He started playing football in sixth grade. It was a discussion we had as a family. He was worried about soccer. We were able to assure him that he could try football and still play soccer. But he made the adjustment quickly.
He wanted to be a quarterback, but the coach said, "Meg, he's too damn tall. It takes him too long to get out from under center." They could use him elsewhere. I remember when he caught his first pass for the Lakeview Panthers as a sixth-grader. It was just the look on his face. I saw something go off in him. It was like, "This could be fun."
I went to every game and took him to every practice. When he was a freshman and moving up through JV and varsity at Pickerington North High, I realized football might lead somewhere. When he was a junior, they named him a captain. That's something that had only been done once before. The first one was Pat Elflein, who now happens to be the center for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The two of them have been dear, dear friends. They're obviously rivals, but they have a brotherhood. When Jake has his brief moments in Pickerington, he always gets together with Pat. They go down to campus, and Jake doesn't wear any Michigan stuff. Saturday, they'll meet at midfield for the coin toss as captains.
When Jake was getting those piles of letters from college football programs while he was in high school, I made a poster board. I used every school logo that made him an offer on one side and the logos of his dream schools on the other. A lot of them matched up. He was sort of waiting to see what Ohio State was going to do, but once he met the guys from Michigan—Brady Hoke in particular—he knew. He was 16. He wanted to commit. I said, "Sweetie, just wait. You're a sophomore. Can you just give it a minute?" And he did, out of respect for the process. But he didn't want to take any other official visits. He didn't want to do anything else. He was a Michigan Man from day one.
Jake loved Hoke and his staff, but those first two seasons were hard. During spring practice in 2014, my phone rang at about 10 p.m. one night. "Hi mom," he said. "Are you sitting down?" He said he got hurt. He hurt his knee. He heard a pop. I didn't know what ACL or meniscus meant. Brady Hoke was right there. Jake passed the phone to him. We had a discussion. Later, we all went up there together as a family for the surgery. It was scary, but we didn't think it was career-ending because that's not Jake. He came back in time to play in 10 games, but the guy he signed to play for was about to get fired. Brady Hoke is a phenomenal man, a wonderful family man and team builder. He really stocked that cabinet for Jim Harbaugh.
For me, as Jake's mom, it was painful by the end of sophomore year to see Jake struggling. Jake didn't sign up to lose. He didn't go to the University of Michigan to struggle. There were so many games where he was just so heartbroken that I couldn't get a word out of him. He just wanted to get back on that bus and go back to Ann Arbor and just be a college kid. He never gave up his work ethic. He never gave up his passion. But it was really hard to see him so sad as a football player. Brady Hoke was great. He was always there for me and our family. But I didn't have a problem when he was let go.
After Hoke was fired, I asked Jake if he'd considered the option of playing for a different school. He hadn't redshirted, so he'd still have two more years to play somewhere else. Jake looked at me like I had three heads. "Mom, Michigan is my team," he said. "It's my world." And then they hired Jim Harbaugh. Boy, does he love his tight ends. It's been wonderful to see that relationship grow. He and Jake could be father and son. Jim's son Jay is Jake's position coach. Jim's dad comes to all the games. It's such a family. They really love each other, and you've seen what they've done for the team and for Jake.
I went up to Michigan in July for Jake's 21st birthday. I took him to his favorite restaurant, The Chop House. "Honey, if you stay healthy and you go to the NFL," I said, "what's that first big ticket item?" Some guys want to buy a Bentley or a boat. Not Jake. "Mom," he said, "I can't think about that." I couldn't believe that. "Honey, you have to have thought about what you could buy," I said. Then he said, "I just found out how easy it's going to be to get my master's degree even while I'm in the NFL." I said, "O.K., Jake. That's great. Can you throw your mom a bone?" Nope. He was sticking with the master's. That's my proudest moment. The only time he said "I" was when he said how fast "I" could get my master's.
But before all that, Jake has a few huge games to play. I'm really thinking positive about Saturday. I think the guys are where they need to be to take down Ohio State this year. I'll tell you what this week is like being a Michigan mom in this town. I work at a flooring company in sales. The conversation on the daily is about how Michigan sucks. That sucks when your kid is doing everything in his power to help that team succeed, and they're just so disgusting about it.
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No matter what happens, I'll be happy. When Michigan people talk to me—whether it's a 50-year-old alum or a 10-year-old—they don't talk to me about what a great football player Jake is. The statistics can reflect that. What they always say is what a great young man he is. He's so kind. He's so giving. He's so thoughtful. That, to me, means more than any broken record. It means more than winning the Ohio State game. That's why I'm so chill about the outcome of Saturday's game.
But I already have my outfit picked out for Monday. I'm wearing a bright yellow wig and I'm wearing everything Michigan from my shoes to my scarf. I really have a good feeling they're ready for this.