Kaizer Butler was jogging around on the Fisher Stadium turf with some of his Lafayette football buddies Saturday morning.
When I asked him later in the day how much working out he’s been doing, he said, “If you asked me three weeks ago, I’d pass out doing pushups.”
The defensive back is a long way from being ready to even practice, let alone play football again; but the fact that he’s where he is right now is somewhat of a miracle.
In June of this year, the 19-year-old California was stricken with a rare autoimmune disease called Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis. It is an inflammation of the blood vessels that limits the flow of blood to organs like the kidneys, lungs, nose, windpipe, etc.
Butler experienced kidney failure and his lungs filled up with blood. He was placed on life support at one point, but he managed to fight through the critical period.
He is still taking oral doses of chemotherapy, although they are being slowly reduced; he is taking steroids, which are also nearing an end, and he is being treated for high blood pressure.
He had to drop out of Lafayette for the fall semester, but he was back in Easton last week to begin the re-enrollment process.
And to visit with his friends on the football team.
He wanted to come East earlier in the season, but airline ticket prices spiked at the wrong time and postponed the trip. He finally got a decent rate and arrive in Pennsylvania Wednesday. He drove immediately to practice, where Coach Frank Tavani was expecting him but the players were not.
“That changed the mental attitudes of a lot of people from Wednesday night on,” Tavani said on Sunday.
Butler spent the rest of the week with the team, although he had to be cautious about keeping away from people who might be sick in any way because his immune system has not yet fully recovered. But he was on the sidelines during the game and attended the party that broke out in the locker room after the Leopards ended their seven-game losing streak with a 17-3 win over Georgetown.
Tavani said he got a text message from Butler, who was at the airport Sunday morning waiting for his return flight. “He didn’t want to leave,” Tavani said. “He’s such an endearing person. People are drawn to him. We’re hoping he can live a normal life and deal with this autoimmune disease because they can only put it in remission. You don’t know when or if it will come back, or what causes it. It’s a rough way to go through life.”
Butler said the comeback “is pretty good. We’re on the slow end of the process. The hard part was earlier. Now it’s about handling the medicines I’m on.”
Butler said he’s taking two classes – statistics and sociology – and College of the Canyons Community College, which is located near his home. “I’m doing well in both classes, highest grade in the class,” he said. “I left a lot on the table academically last year. I was a little embarrassed the way I did, so it was time to buckle down and do what I’m supposed to do and be the student I know I can be and I was before I got here.”
I asked him if he felt lucky to be alive, and Butler said, “It’s not even lucky, I’m blessed. It literally took a whole bunch of prayers in my name being passed around in churches the local area. There was a prayer circle before things went bad, and when they got bad, all of a sudden things started clicking. We were barely able to get on the phone with rheumatologist to get help; and then an hour later, we got transferred to UCLA to get the help from the people we needed. You couldn’t get that the hour before people prayed for me. My parents told me about it later.”
While we never mentioned playing football, I did ask him if he was anxious to begin training again, and he said, “As soon as my blood pressure is under control, I’m going to go after it. Everything else, I can run with.”
|Tyler West ... 117 yards rushing.|
THE BYE WEEK – “Now we’re going into a bye week, where we could use a little break to heal up and to get some more people back. We know we have two very good football teams to face, but all we’ll be concerned about come Wednesday, which will be the first practice back, is focusing on Colgate.” The practice schedule calls for helmets only on Wednesday, shells on Thursday, pads on Friday when “we’ll go at it hard and physical”, according to Tavani; Saturday off and then Sunday begins the regular game-week schedule, which calls for Monday off. “At this time of year, you can’t get enough rest and recovery,” Tavani said.
DISSA & DATA – Tavani was happier with the play of the special teams against Georgetown, citing freshmen Yasir Thomas and Nick Pearson for their tackles on kickoffs. Eight Hoya possessions started inside the 30-yard line – three inside the 20. Lafayette also started eight time inside the 30 … Lafayette had the ball for more than 10 minutes in both the second and third quarters, which helped lead to an overall time-of-possession advantage of more than nine minutes, a rarity this year … Leopard defensive back Phillip Parham had his hands on a pair of interceptions, but dropped them. When it was suggested Parham might need new gloves, Tavani said, “The boys will be teasing him enough. He’ll have to get some glue on there.” Linebacker Jerry Powe chimed in, “I can’t tease him because I dropped one last week. It happens.” … The catch that was probably the prettiest of the game doesn’t appear in the stat sheet. QB Drew Reed unloaded a bomb for Rocco Palumbo, who first fought a defender for the ball and then fought to get to the goal line. It would have been a 34-yard TD, but a holding call nullified the play. Lafayette wound up not getting any points from the possession … Tyler West had the Leopards’ longest run from scrimmage, 40 yards, but it came in the final minute of the game. QB Reed took a knee on the next play as time ran out … RB DeSean Brown knew in advance that he wouldn’t play on Saturday except in a dire emergency because he tweaked his knee in practice on Wednesday. Now it’s going to be real interesting to see how things work out when the Leopards go to Colgate. West was really solid; Mike Dunn ran strong at times but made one bad decision that cost him 11 yards. He also fumbled once, but it was recovered by Lafayette.