ATLANTA—Before Duke took the field Saturday against Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets held their annual senior day festivities and honored the members of their graduating class who were playing their final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Little did the Blue Devils know as they watched the ceremony, one of their own would be suiting up for the final game of his collegiate career as well. Redshirt senior Lee Butler will likely require knee surgery after suffering an injury in the second quarter of Duke’s 42-24 loss to the Yellow Jackets.
Following a 16-yard kickoff return, Butler lay on the field with an apparent injury to his right knee. He was helped off the field by members of the Blue Devil coaching staff and did not return to the action. Although the injury did not look serious at the time, head coach David Cutcliffe revealed after the game that Butler would likely require surgery on his knee.
“When I went in after the ballgame to talk with our squad the first thing I talked about was Lee Butler,” Cutcliffe said. “He has just been a warrior for us for five years. He’s an extraordinary young man.”
Butler started each of Duke’s first 11 games at cornerback and served as one of the team’s primary kickoff returners during his senior season. The Anderson, S.C. native recorded 31 tackles, intercepted one pass, forced two fumbles and blocked a kick this season. He also added 17 kickoff returns for 342 yards for a team-high average of 20.1 yards per return.
Against Georgia Tech, Butler recorded just one tackle on defense, but broke a 45-yard kickoff return—his longest of the season—to set Duke with excellent field position on its second touchdown drive. His four kickoff returns spanned 98 yards on the afternoon.
Butler will be unable to take the field with his fellow seniors for their final game at Wallace Wade Stadium next Saturday against Miami.
He will also will likely not be able to play in the Blue Devils’ bowl appearance, the team’s first in 18 years. But Cutcliffe, brimming with emotion in his postgame press conference, was adamant that his senior has the emotional fortitude to face the abrupt end of his Duke career head on.
“I told Lee that things like that only happen to really special people because he’s capable of handling that,” Cutcliffe said. “He is an incredible human being. Most of us couldn’t deal with what Lee Butler has had to deal with his whole career. So we got his back.”