Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The road back is long and hard, but Kaizer Butler has the right stuff

Kaizer Butler stretches during a spring practice. 
Lafayette football coach Frank Tavani told me about returning from a recruiting trip one night and, from his office in the Bourger Varsity Football House, seeing someone running around on the practice field behind the visitors' grandstand in Fisher Stadium.

"It's dark back there and it's late at night," Tavani said. It's HIM. I had to stop him."

The "him" to whom Tavani was referring is defensive back Kaizer Butler. "He works so hard and he really gets everybody going," Tavani said of the Californian who worked his way into the starting lineup for the Leopards during his first preseason camp a year ago.

Butler, who is recovering from a near-fatal bout with granulomatosis with polyangiitis, a rare autoimmune disease that affects only three of every 100,000 people in the United States. While there is a list of symptoms, there is no known cause of the disease. Neither is there a cure.

Tavani said the first inkling of how seriously Butler was hurting came by way of a text message after Butler returned home to California following final exams. "He said his mother would call me because he was having a bad day," Tavani said. "The next thing we knew was he was in the hospital, then at the UCLA Medical Center."

Tavani went to the Internet for information about GPA. "You can read all you want and none of it is very good," he said.

Butler came through the most critical time, but the recovery process is a long one.

"He has such a great attitude," Tavani said. "The last time I talked to him, he was apologizing about working out and that he couldn't last 30 minutes. I told him I think that'll do for a start. He is something else."

Butler told me, "Things are turning around and blood tests and (kidney) numbers are looking better. I'm feeling pretty good. My body is slowly coming back to what it's supposed to be. I understand it's going to take a little bit."

He's hoping he will have made enough progress that he'll be able to return to school for the second semester. When he does come back, he will have to keep a close watch on himself in case the GPA relapses, as it does in about 50 percent of the cases.

"If I start feeling a few symptoms, I have to get in touch with somebody," Butler said. "When I’m back out there, I have to go to [University of Pennsylvania] to get back on medicine and put it back in remission. It won’t be as bad as the first time because I’ll recognize it, and they can put me back on whatever dosage I need.”

Asked about the chances of the disease not coming back, he said, “Yes, sir. I’ve been going over to UCLA for my treatments. There are several patients, including older patients in their 40s who haven’t had a flare-up since the first time. It goes either way. You never know.”

As Coach Tavani has said, Butler is a glass-half-full kind of guy, and that kind of fits right in with the Leopards' approach to a season in which they are committed to rebounding from a 2015 campaign in which they didn't win a single league game and only one overall in 11 starts.

The story of Brandon Hudgins, a runner who overcame GPA and was able to regain the fitness needed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 1500-meter run, has been a kind of motivating factor for Butler, whose goal is to return to a Division I football program and finish the business he started last year.

"For me, it's about making an impact and changing the sport, and inspiring people to get out and run and move and chase their dreams even though they're going to be hard as hell sometimes," Hudgins told writer Taylor Dutch for a feature earlier this summer. Butler has the same aspiration. He's a perfect example of Lafayette's E.A.A.T. -- Effort, Attitude, Accountability, Toughness -- mantra for the season.

SUMMER CAMP UPDATE -- I talked to Tavani on Sunday, so he had only one day of practice with the entire team and said he was "really happy with what's going on." The first couple of practices were helmets-only. Shoulder pads are being added today (Tuesday), and Coach always says that as soon as they go on, the practices intensify. That means the live portions will feature some pretty good work, especially among the offensive and defensive linemen. Thursday is the first day in full pads, which should be fun. Saturday is the first scrimmage with officials. ... I asked Tavani if he had decided on captains yet, and he said, "No captains. I've been watching and I want to get in pads and see who's stepping up when the sparks are flying."  Lafayette's Media Day in Thursday, Aug. 18, and I'm thinking maybe that will be the time the coach breaks the news on captains. On that day, the seniors meet with the press.  But, the decision isn't mine to make, so I could be way off base.

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