NEWPORT NEWS ——To think it all started by accident.
Josh Butler was 7 or so when he tagged along with his older brother, Ellis, to youth league football practice. A coach from a younger division noticed him standing there and asked him to run to the fence and back. Josh did … and quickly.
"I want you on my team," the coach told him.
That's how it began. Today, Butler is Warwick's starting quarterback and a major reason why the Raiders are in the playoff hunt going into Thursday night's game at Hampton.
"We said at the start of the year that our success would depend on how well Josh Butler played," Warwick coach Juan Jackson said. "Thus far, he's stepping up each and every week. It's been quite a surprise, but we knew his talent."
That's evident. Like a certain other quarterback who used to play at Warwick, Butler is an escape artist who you shouldn't consider down until you see him back in the huddle for the next play.
Everyone wants a playmaker at the game's most important position. With the possible exceptions of Woodside (Donnell Lewis) and Bethel (Frank Brown), nobody in the Peninsula District has a better one.
"I don't really plan them," Butler said of his YouTube moments. "I just realize the situation of the game and trust my ability. But I guess when they happen frequently, it's part of my talent to play football and make plays."
Take his 52-yard touchdown run against Booker T. Washington in the season's second week. Words don't do it justice, but here goes: He takes a direct snap behind the left tackle and cuts to the sideline. Two defenders have him trapped at the 30-yard line, so what does he do? He cuts to the inside and splits them.
Three more Bookers appear to swarm him at the 15 — in fact, he disappears from sight for a split second — but he escapes that. Another has him cornered at the 10, but Butler jukes him. Then he drags one last defender into the end zone.
It was (dare we say it?) positively Vick-like.
"You can say he runs like Mike, and that's quite a statement," Jackson said. "He has amazing talent and he's made some great plays this year."
Another came with Warwick leading Kecoughtan 16-14 in the fourth quarter. In the shotgun on fourth-and-eight, Butler is grabbed around the legs by T.J. Ricks for an apparent sack. He breaks free and reverses his field to the left side, where he dances around for a few seconds a la Muhammad Ali.
Back-pedaling with Richie Staton in his face, Butler lofts a 34-yard touchdown pass to a wide open DeAndre Bethea.
It probably won't shock you to learn that Michael Vick is one of his idols.
"He's the primary reason I wanted to play quarterback," Butler said. "Around the time I started playing he was at his peak in Atlanta. I was watching him a lot and it was a big inspiration. I wanted to be just like him."
For the season, Butler has completed 39-of-64 passes (61 percent) for 764 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. What stands out most are the yards per completion (19.6) and completion-to-touchdown ratio (3.5-to-1).
"He's such a competitor, and he loves being a part of things," Woodside coach Danny Dodson said. "He's a lot like Donnell (Lewis) in that he makes a lot of things happen. He's quick, he's fast, and he throws the ball pretty well. He brings that extra element you just can't account for sometimes.
"We saw him against Kecoughtan when he threw that touchdown pass. He made that by running around back there for 30 seconds."
(Actually, it was exactly 9.9 seconds from snap to pass, but you get his point).
Butler knew he'd be counted on to make plays and, more important, win games. Warwick has been to the playoffs four straight years, though it went one-and-out each time. Now, the Raiders are in position to not only make the field but get a top-four seed … if they keep winning.
Butler's play will have a lot to do with that.
"I like the pressure, because that lets me know it's up to me to let things happen," Butler said. "That's why the quarterback position, I feel, is particularly for me. The pressure comes and goes, but I feel I've gotten better at handling it. It's become a part of football to me."
NUMBERS: Has completed 39-of-64 passes (61 percent) for 764 yards with 11 touchdowns and 4 INTs … has rushed for 264 yards and four touchdowns.
DID YOU KNOW? Butler likes to compose rap songs. However, he prefers listening to alt-rock bands like Coldplay, Panic! at the Disco, and Green Day.