DeKALB – Everglades (Fla.) High School football coach Josh Shapiro teaches his players the importance of being in positive situations and surrounded by quality people.
But Shapiro said he never needed to discuss that with Northern Illinois linebacker Devon Butler, who he coached for three years in high school. Butler never was suspended in school, and there never was a fear he would be. Described as a reserved kid and quiet leader, Shapiro said Butler always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
Which is why Shapiro was so surprised when he was informed Wednesday morning that Butler was listed in critical condition after being the victim of an off-campus shooting late Tuesday night.
“I thought that, at one, he was lucky and a little bit unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Shapiro said. “You definitely think about all the things you tell the kids about going off to college, about how it’s a huge opportunity, about how it’s important to take full advantage of it.”
Butler, 19, was with friends in an Aspen Court apartment when he was shot in his upper-right back over a drug deal gone bad earlier Tuesday, DeKalb Police said. DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said Butler had no knowledge of or involvement in the drug deal, and he was not present during the transaction.
NIU students Mark O. Orozco, 24, and Richard F. Van Arsdale III, 20, were charged in connection with the shooting. They face chargers of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm – Class X felonies punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Butler was taken to Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb before being airlifted Wednesday to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford. He was still listed in critical condition Thursday morning. Shapiro said NIU linebacker coach Tom Matukewicz described Butler’s condition as “pretty solid” at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“All our thoughts and prayers as a team and as a coaching staff right now are with Devon,” NIU football coach Dave Doeren said in a news release. “He’s a member of our family and the most important thing is his health.”
That family includes Huskies present and past.
“Sending out a prayer for my bro DeVon Butler,” NIU receiver Nathan Palmer tweeted Wednesday, a few hours before tweeting Butler would be OK and asking followers to continue with their prayers.
“Our family was hurt today.. We have to bounce back even stronger than before.. this is God testing our resilience.. Adversity BUILDS..” fellow linebacker Jordan Delegal tweeted.
Former NIU running back Chad Spann, hoping to be drafted in this month’s NFL draft, was in San Diego for a meeting with the Chargers when he was informed via text message Butler was in critical condition.
“Just another terrible accident,” Spann said. “I don’t know what the situation was or what happened. It sounds like something that could’ve been avoided. It’s definitely a sad situation. I think everybody is mourning right now about it.”
Butler, a third-team All-Mid-American Conference linebacker last season, was a first-year starter at linebacker as a sophomore in 2010. He was second on the Huskies with 80 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.
With Tyrone Clark, last season’s defensive MVP, out next season because of a personal situation, Butler assumed leadership of the linebackers this spring.
“As an athletic department and as a university, I know that we are going to support Devon, his family and his teammates in every way we can,” NIU Athletic Director Jeff Compher said in the news release. “Our primary focus is on all of our student-athletes at this time.”
Compher and Doeren declined further comment when approached at the Rockford hospital Wednesday afternoon. Doeren said he would not comment out of respect for Butler’s family.
All football team activities, including this morning’s practice, have been canceled until further notice, according to the news release.
Butler’s future availability as a player is unknown for this season, but he has not used his redshirt option. Whether he’s available to return to the field or not, Spann said, it will take a team effort to persevere through the adversity.
“He’s definitely a great young man,” Spann said. “He’s really matured and developed as a player and person since he’s gotten here. He’s definitely a leader on the team.
“Everybody on the team is pretty close. It’s a sad thing to happen, and it’s something we’ll have to pull through as a team.”