Tornado look to build on breakthrough year
BUTLER TWP — A winning regular season and a playoff appearance.
Butler experienced both in 2021, ending droughts of more than 20 years in both categories. Now the Golden Tornado enter the 2022 campaign without three stalwarts from a year ago — Cooper Baxter, Ethan Trettel and Lance Slater. Quarterback-running back-middle linebacker Baxter has moved on to Indiana (Pa.) University for baseball and Trettel plans to walk on as a receiver at Slippery Rock University next spring.
Slater, a senior, is out for the season after undergoing leg and ankle surgery over the summer.
“Our schedule is challenging, too,” Butler coach Eric Christy said. “We have some long road trips and virtually every team we play is a good one.”
But this season is not one of doom and gloom for the Tornado. Those days are gone.
“There’s been a culture change here and it’s affecting everybody,” senior quarterback Mac Schnur said. “We’re playing with heart and everyone knows his role is important, from the senior leaders to the guys on scout team.”
The Tornado return six starters offensively, including left guard Ethan Babay, center Markeis Frazier and left tackle Brock Popovich. Schnur, who threw for 1,574 yards last season, is back at quarterback. Landon Lacey returns at running back and Braylon Littlejohn (28 catches-369 yards) is now the top receiver coming back.
Landon Dubyak, David Graef and Dashawn Cox also figure into the running back rotation. Among the receivers are Ryan McLister, Ayden Davis and Declan Dobson, a transfer student from Texas.
“He looks like he can play. He’ll be a welcome addition to our receiving corps,” Christy said of Dobson, a senior.
Working in at right guard is Keegan Bracken with Terrell Holderman expected to see time at right tackle, Brenden Stevens at a tackle spot.
“Our offense will be extremely versatile,” Christy said. “We’re not using a tight end this year, so our formations will be different. We’ll do some Wing-T, RPO sets, spreads ... We should be prepared for every type of defense.”
Babay said Butler will play a more physical brand of football as well.
“As a line, we want to come out and smack teams in the mouth,” he said. “We have to let people know what Butler football is now. We do play a tough schedule, but we believe we can win.
“My freshman year, we went 0-10. Then we started out losing again my sophomore year, but we wound up winning a couple of games. That gave us confidence and set us up for last year.”
Defensively, Butler has six starters back as well. Babay and Frazier are tackles, JunJun Andrada and Cox are linebackers, Schnur is a cornerback and Lacey is a safety.
The Tornado will play their typical 4-2-5 defense. Dubyak and Cooper McTighe figure to see action at linebacker while Bracken, Holderman and Brock Popovich will play on the defensive line. Ian Wilson, who saw action in the secondary as a sophomore last year, has a broken wrist.
“Our three top corners from last year are out right now,” Christy said. “We’re counting on some depth there.”
Davis is expected to man a corner spot while Alex Catalfano will play at safety.
Popovich said the defense needs to make more of an impact this season.
“We need to generate more quarterback sacks,” he said. “I believe in our strength up front on both sides of the ball. Offensively, we have the skill people to get things done. Defensively, we need to make a statement.
“We became competitive last year. This year, I feel like we can play with anyone.”
Max Gianneski returns as Butler’s place-kicker. Littlejohn handled the punting chores a year ago.
“Our goal is to get as many players on the field as possible,” Christy said. “The more kids who can contribute, the better off we’ll be in terms of staying fresh and effective.”