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Updated: 04/21/2013 08:00:02AM


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Jason Butler is Bartow's new head football coach. He stands before the 1996 state championship sign, a team of which he was a member of.


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It didn’t take long to find the next football coach for Bartow High School. The search committee didn’t have to go very far to accomplish the mission, either.

Bartow High School graduate Jason Butler, who lives in the community with his wife and two children, has accepted the position to lead the team for the 2013 season. A member of the Class of 1997, he lettered in baseball and football during his time in a Yellow Jacket uniform.

Butler was selected to the USA Today All-USA high school football team as an honorable mention representative for Florida. The state list included future NFL players Freddie Mitchell, Travis Henry and Earnest Graham.

After his graduation from BHS, Butler went to the University of South Florida, where he played baseball for one season and football during his entire stay. He was the recipient of the LeRoy Selmon Award and picked up team MVP honors.

His coaching career started at USF as a graduate assistant before moving into the high school coaching ranks. A short stint at Lake Wales ended when he accepted a position to join Coach Bill Castle at Lakeland High School shortly after the Dreadnaughts won their state championship in 2004, the first of three consecutive. He started as a coach for the linebackers and became defensive coordinator through the 2012 season. This will be his first head coaching opportunity in football.

He will be taking over a position in physical education/weightlifting in his academic responsibilities at Bartow. At Lakeland, he was head of the agriculture department and veterinarian science academy. During his time as a Bartow High School student, he was active with the Future Farmers of America and has a passion for animals and their care. Right there with that is his passion for young people.

“I really like to help the youth. I see programs like Ohio’s Saint Xavier where the coaches are able to work with the kids for many years. They have their hands on them from the age of 6 on up. When assistant coaches try to do that here, it’s called recruiting and we’re told not talk to the kids at camp, that only the head coach can do that. I’ve played here. I have coached against Bartow teams. I want to see better things for this team and for this community.”

The “to do” list is massive, as Butler will face putting together a staff, getting to know the players, parents, boosters, community leaders and so on. Winning games is on the list, but that can’t happen until many of the other objectives are underway. The new coach had his first meeting with his team Thursday afternoon. They will have to understand that everyone has a role to play and that includes the coaches.

“My greatest strength is knowing that I have weaknesses,” Butler said. “At Lakeland, we had people who were good with Xs and Os, we had others who excelled at websites or ones who excelled at paperwork. We all had a niche and that’s what makes you successful. You can’t try to do it all, but have to rely on the strengths of the people around you to do their job to the best of their ability. I’m not always right. You have to surround yourself with people who are good at what they do.”

Despite his previous experience on the defensive side of the ball, Butler sees the opportunity that exists when his team is in possession. Because of that, he will take control of the offensive game plan in this position.

“If we’re facing a third down situation and keeping the drive alive is keeping us in a game, I don’t want to have to rely on someone else’s play calling to affect our fate. There’s a lot to be said about losing possession after being hung out on third down. They say defense wins championships and there’s a lot to that, but there can be breakdowns in defense, too. Possession is very important and we want to make as many drives to the end zone as we can.”

In an ongoing process, Butler has been able to review film of games from the past season, searching for issues that must be addressed. He cited examples of poor execution that he witnessed and wondered what the players were thinking, questioning their focus. He will be working hard to getting the players to believe in their ability and contributions.

When asked about his coaching highlight, Butler said, “Up until yesterday, it was the overtime championship when we played St. Thomas and stopped them. Yesterday was an eye opening experience. I talked to a few guys who had played at Lakeland and went on to college and they were happy, wishing me luck. Being able to share the news and have the guys wishing you the best really says a lot. I didn’t know how people would take it, but they’ve been very happy.”

It probably didn’t shock Castle when Butler gave him the news.

“We have kind of been rehearsing for the day when we’d be standing on opposite sidelines,” said Butler. That will happen on Oct. 18, but there’s a lot to be done in the six months between now and then.

“Coach Castle taught me so much it’s amazing,” Butler added. “I am grateful to have had the chance to learn from him.”

Though everyone may want to get out on the field and get ready, high school teams can’t practice with a football until the Florida High School Athletic Association says it is OK. The FHSAA website lists May 1 as the first day
of non-contact practice and
May 4 as the days the pads can go on. The spring game for Bartow will be played at Mulberry on Friday, May 24.

Those dates are likely circled in red on Jason Butler’s planner. It’s the start of a new era in Bartow High School football and the new coach will do everything in his power to make sure the team is ready.

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