This General Has The Heart Of A Giant

Photo by Colleen Napoli

With less than three minutes to go in the second quarter, the MacArthur Generals were trailing Garden City and they were facing  a fourth and one from the Trojans’ 35-yard line.  Generals quarterback Jack Butler would pick up the first down on a keeper, but as he was being brought down, he suffered a serious ankle injury that would end his season while also casting some doubt as to whether or not the young man would ever be able to play sports again.

“Right away, I was just thinking of what’s going to happen next and where am I going,” said Butler.  “Once I was actually in the hospital and laying in a bed after surgery, that’s when everything started to rush in about whether or not I’d be able to come back or not.”

Photo of Jack Butler’s injury courtesy of Varsity Media

And Butler has returned to the Generals this season with his courage, hard work and determination making him a nominee for the USA Football “Heart of a Giant” award.  He is one of a number of tri-state area high school football players who are up for the award and you can cast your vote by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of USA Football/Heart of a Giant

Finalists will receive $1,000 equipment grants for his or her high school and a “Heart of a Giant” gift bag.  The grand prize winner will receive and additional $4,000 equipment grant for his or her high school and a “Heart of a Giant” trophy that will be presented on the field at a Giants home game in December.

“It’s amazing,” said Butler.  “It’s very prestigious.  It’s great to be part of that select group of people.”

Butler sustained the injury this past March 27th as the fall 2020 season on Long Island was postponed until the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With not much time to rehab in order to be ready for the fall 2021 campaign, Butler embarked on a grueling rehab program.   Had he suffered the injury in the fall, there wouldn’t have been much doubt that he would be able to return this season, but he only had about five months to recover and then ultimately be cleared to return.

“I knew I had to do everything I could, but I couldn’t go too far or else I would end up setting myself back,” said Butler. “I pushed myself to the absolute limit.  I could before my body told me I needed to take a break.  Every day, whether it was sitting in my garage doing anything I could or sitting in a wheelchair throwing a ball against the wall, I was doing everything I possibly could to make this possible.”

And Butler is living proof that sometimes the impossible can be possible.

Four weeks before training camp was set to begin in August, Butler was cleared to start working out and then two weeks before the first practice the senior quarterback was cleared for full activity.  His return to the team has been inspiring and he has helped lead MacArthur High School to a 3-0 start heading into this Saturday’s game at 3-0 Mepham High School.

“Just an incredible recovery after major ankle surgery,” said MacArthur Head Coach Bobby Fehrenbach.  “To come back and get cleared by the start of camp.  He never missed a day of camp, hasn’t missed a day of practice, hasn’t sat out of a spring, and hasn’t asked to sit out of any conditioning.  For anybody, that just speaks volumes about who he is regardless of coming back from a major injury or not.”

Photo of MacArthur Head Coach Bobby Fehrenbach courtesy of Levittown Schools

As the Generals gathered for off-season workouts and then ultimately for training camp, there was some uncertainty as to whether or not Butler would be able to make it all of the way back.  But the story here is that we’re talking about a young man that just wasn’t going to accept not being able to participate in his senior season.  But when the New York State high school fall sports season began on August 23rd, Butler was on the field with his teammates and coaches for the first day of practice.

149 days after suffering a horrible injury, Butler was back.

“It’s meant everything,” said Butler who was named Homecoming King this past Saturday before he helped lead the Generals to a 28-7 win over Herricks.  “After getting hurt and not knowing if I’d be able to come back and play sports at all, not being able to walk for three and a half months and not knowing what my future would look like, just being able to practice again was a blessing.”

Photo of Jack Butler (14) by Colleen Napoli

Getting back on the field was one thing for Butler, but it did take a little time to get back to where he was physically before getting hurt.  With three games under his belt, Butler has now made it back all the way.

“He’s like 100%,” said Fehrenbach.  “At the beginning you can see it was the first time he had done any running and conditioning long term as far as preparation goes.  He was doing rehab and stuff but he was limping a little bit out of the gate for a couple of weeks and you can kind of see that he was favoring it.  But he never took a day off, never took a sprint off and now you can’t even tell.”

Butler’s return is already an amazing story, but the storybook ending would be to cap off his high school career with a Nassau County (Section VIII) title and perhaps even a Long Island Championship.  After falling to the Garden City Trojans in the Conference Two title game in each of the last two season, it seems like MacArthur and Garden City could be on a collision course once again.  The Generals have some work to do before they visit the Trojans on October 23rd, but right now Butler is just thrilled to be playing on a team that has a chance to do some special things.

“It’s great,” said Butler.  “It’s what we expected…to be competitive again and to be neck and neck with Garden City.  Being part of this team has meant everything…just to be able to get on the field again.  I just wanted to be part of the team.”

Photo courtesy of USA Football/Heart of a Giant

As far as the USA Football “Heart of a Giant” award is concerned, Butler certainly has some competition as there are a number of other great athletes that are nominees in the voting.  But when it comes to the feeling around “General Nation” and the community that lives and breathes MacArthur football as well as the other sports played by so many great student-athletes, Butler’s story hits close to home.

“There’s a lot of kids here and a lot of kids that up for that award,” said Fehrenbach. “But for an injury like (Butler sustained) and the determination, the drive, the will to come back and for him to want to be on the field and not just say I’m happy to have my pads on and maybe take a snap and take a knee at the end of the game…he’s competing like he was just there.”

Fehrenbach knows a little something about getting an award associated with the New York Giants.  During the 2019 season, the longtime Generals Head Coach was named by the Giants and Gatorade as the Lou Rettino High School Coach of the Week for week eight after his team ended Garden City’s 42 game winning streak with a 27-7 win on the road.  Since spectators were now allowed to attend Giants home games in 2020, Fehrenbach finally received that award this past August 14th during the Giants’ preseason game against the Jets.

Now, Fehrenbach would love to see one of his players, namely Jack Butler, take home some hardware from Big Blue and USA Football.

“It would be pretty cool,” said Fehrenbach.  “It was nice to get recognized but for a kid that would be pretty special.  To see some of those last year’s “Heart of a Giant” recipients at the Giants game and just seeing the smiles on their faces I’m sure any 17 or 18-year-old kid would be beaming just to kind of being recognized with that award.”

Photo of Jack Butler by Colleen Napoli

Butler worked his tail off to get on the field after that horrible injury, but he didn’t go through the process of rehab by himself as he had a tremendous support system right by his side.  Between his family, friends, teammates and coaches along with the entire MacArthur family and community, Butler was driven each and every day to realize his goal of putting the Generals’ red, white and blue uniform back on his body and the crimson red helmet back on his head.

“It was amazing,” said Butler.  “There was support from everyone. The coaches and teachers talking to me…my teammates…everyone came over.  They were helping me out, sending me gifts.  It was just the presence of everyone coming every day.  Tens of people coming every day.  That meant the most.”

Jack Butler’s hard work paid off as he has returned for his senior season with MacArthur Generals.  His focus is on helping his team win each and ever game and competing for a championship, but he also has an opportunity to be rewarded for the diligent work he displayed during his long road back to the field.

He certainly has the “Heart of a Giant’.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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