DeKALB – Devon Butler called it a proud moment.
Now, he's working on the next one.
After playing as a freshman linebacker for Northern Illinois and finishing the 2009 season with 15 tackles – 10 of them solo – and two tackles for loss, the incoming sophomore is starting to settle in as NIU's middle linebacker.
"My parents are proud of me and all that," said Butler, a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla. "Since high school, I've had a lot of responsibilities. They recruited me because they were looking for a Mike (middle linebacker) and they knew I could play right away."
He did, and this spring, Butler is taking textbook steps forward in his progression.
A solid run stopper, Butler wants to get better at defending the pass. He's made a conscious effort to get his hands up quicker and be more active.
Butler also is spending more time in the film room and coming in by himself to study what he can do better, something he didn't do as a freshman.
"Now, being the starting middle linebacker, I have a lot of responsibilities," Butler said. "I can't let my teammates down. If I don't get there to watch film, I feel like I've let them down."
Butler shows no signs of doing that this spring. This past Saturday, in a two-hour scrimmage, the linebacker registered two sacks and was in on several tackles consistently for the two hours.
"Devon stood out," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "I think he just keeps getting better and better. He's playing well. There's no question about that."
Butler says one of the reasons for that is because he fits in so well with NIU's 4-3 defensive scheme.
"That's why they recruited me," Butler said. "They recruited guys who can play inside the box with my blitzing skills. It's a downhill defense."
With Butler's emergence, that gives NIU some flexibility at linebacker, allowing Pat Schiller to move to the weakside, knowing Schiller can come back inside if needed.
If Butler can meet his goals, he'll settle in even further to his spot.
"I want to work on my passing game," he said. "The passing game is not my strength and it's not where it needs to be right now. In order to be a great linebacker, you've got to play the run and the pass."