DeKALB – There weren't many times Northern Illinois linebacker Devon Butler was alone during his two-week stay at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.
Coaches and players made frequent visits. When they weren't at the hospital, his family was. But there were those rare moments of silence, minutes when all Butler could do was lie in his bed and think.
Butler said those moments taught him a lot.
"The main thing it's taught me is that you just got to never take things for granted," Butler said during a 15-minute news conference Friday afternoon at the Yordon Center. "You never know what situation life can deal you. It just made me love (football) a lot much more, made me love my family members and things like that a lot much more.
"It just brings a different kind of perspective to life."
Butler's different kind of life perspective will include being sidelined as a player this upcoming season.
In his first public comments since being the victim of a late-night shooting April 5, Butler said he will use a redshirt this fall as he recovers from injuries that initially put him in critical condition. Butler, who was shot in the upper-right side of his back, declined to go into his injuries' specifics. NIU coach Dave Doeren, seated to Butler's left, said the junior linebacker had a collapsed lung.
Butler said he is doing breathing exercises with a machine, but he isn't doing much rehab beyond stretching his legs and eating. After six months, Butler said, he will begin physical therapy. Butler also is working with professors to keep up with his studies.
Until he recovers, Butler is staying at linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz's home. Matukewicz said Friday it was an easy decision to bring the linebacker into his house.
Butler reiterated Friday he had no involvement in or knowledge of a botched drug deal earlier April 5 that resulted in the shooting. Former NIU students Mark Orozco and Richard Van Arsdale III were charged in the shooting and remain in custody at DeKalb County Jail as of Friday evening. A judge has set bond at $1 million each.
"I want to state that, as has been reported, I had no knowledge of what happened earlier that day on April 5," Butler said in his opening remarks. "I just stopped by to see a friend, play a few video games, things like that. Just basically, wrong place at the wrong time. The worst-case scenario happened."
Looking back at the incident, Doeren said Butler's shooting is something that puts life into better perspective.
Doeren remembers arguing with Butler and other players about pass coverage and how to stop the run during morning practice April 5. Only hours later, Doeren said, he realized there were more important things.
"One thing he and I talked about, this is a huge lesson in perspective for me as a coach," Doeren said. "Just the things that I was worrying about even two hours before the incident totally left my mind, and it was (Butler) and his well being.
"So this is a great lesson on how lucky we are to have football, and how lucky we are to walk and breath and love and all the things that matter."
Doeren, a first-time head coach, said he never has had one of his players critically injured from a gunshot. When Doeren called NIU athletic director Jeff Compher that night and asked if he ever had been through a similar situation, Compher told Doeren he had.
Compher declined to go into further detail, only saying they were at other universities and in the past. But he said going through those tragedies helped him know how to handle this one better. And he complimented Doeren on the job he's done the past two weeks.
"I was just so proud of the way he handled it as a head coach, never having anything like this happen before," Compher said. "The lessons that he talked about, having the right perspective about what's important, the people you're around, the way you treat people, the way you take care of each other – those are the things that I think are so important.
"Those are the lessons that I hope will continue to inspire our team."
Laying in his hospital bed, amid the endless visits and support, it didn't take long for Butler to start thinking about football. Butler said he constantly asked his teammates about practice, beginning the first day after his surgery.
He won't be a player this season. Doeren called him a coach. He already has got his own whistle.
But one thing is clear: Friday was not a retirement news conference. Butler said he's confident he'll return as a player. When he does, he said, he'll appreciate the opportunity that much more.
"Talking to my doctors, they believe that soon enough I will have a full recovery," Butler said. "You know what people say about bones. When they come back and grow, they get a lot bigger and stronger. So hopefully when I come back I'll be that much bigger and that much tougher."