For three Kentucky football players, practice was different today. For the first time, Zach Johnson, Miles Butler and David Bouvier took the field as scholarship athletes.
“I’m proud to be here,” said Bouvier, a senior wide receiver from Lexington Catholic. “It feels weird being on a full scholarship now. It’s such a blessing.”
Butler, a senior placekicker from Paducah Tilghman, was equally grateful.
“I first want to thank coach Stoops for the opportunity. He’s been gracious to me ever since I’ve been here. He’s supported me and given me every opportunity I could have asked for…Just a little 150 pound kid, for him to come to me, talk to me and trust me means a lot.”
During a team meeting, Mark Stoops called the three to the front of the room. Before Stoops could even finish speaking, they were mobbed by teammates.
“I’ve got the best teammates. I’m so thankful for them. They’ve always got my back. They’ve never said anything bad about me, even when I was just a scout team guy,” said Bouvier.
One thing these three guys have in common is they are all former walk-ons! pic.twitter.com/pZqceGe2gu
— Mark Stoops (@UKCoachStoops) August 14, 2018
The excitement was also shared by former teammates. This fall Butler could be Austin MacGinnis’ replacement. UK’s all-time leading scorer was happy to see Butler’s hard work pay off.
“It’s well deserved,” MacGinnis told KSR. “Miles has done everything that is asked of him since he has arrived on campus. He is a 4.0 student and a great teammate. I am happy for the kid.”
Charles Walker was “ecstatic” when he heard that his former roommate finally earned a scholarship.
“He’s the type of the guy that would never talk about how he isn’t on scholly yet. He loves to work and I’m sure he’s been waiting on this day for a while now,” Walker said. “He had a personal goal and finally he obtained that goal. But that doesn’t mean he’s done working. As I said earlier, he’s one of the hardest working guys on the team and I know this season is going to mean a lot to him.”
Bouvier is off to an excellent start. Often compared to Walker, Bouvier is the top candidate to replace him as UK’s punt returner. He’s also impressed coaches during camp for his work at slot receiver. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran hasn’t been eager to praise the wide receivers’ play, but went out of his way to call Bouvier a “warrior.”
“You want to talk about a guy making plays…he’s our MVP. That young man is getting it, making plays, he’s playing with energy and I just love that young man,” said Gran.
The road from walk-on to a scholarship isn’t easy. It took Bouvier and Butler four years to achieve that ultimate goal. Butler never thought he’d be in this position. He initially planned on attending Alabama as just another regular student. That changed when Neal Brown asked him to work out for the Cats. His mother asked him to take some time to make a decision, but he refused.
“That’s a done deal. I’m there,” Butler recalled. “It’s really been quite a dream. It’s been fun.”
Behind MacGinnis, getting onto the field was a long shot, but Butler remained ready at all times. When MacGinnis was injured in 2015, Butler stepped in and made four field goals, including a 46-yarder. Last year he was asked to do something a little different when Matt Panton was suspended for the Vanderbilt game. He had not punted since high school, but Butler did not shy away from the challenge.
“I welcomed the opportunity. It was really good to do both. I try to be as versatile as I can — kickoffs, field goals, punt — whatever the team wants me to do to help, I try to work on it, master my craft and give them all I can. Anything I can do to help us win a game.”
This year the Cats may need him to win a few games with his leg. Becoming MacGinnis’ full-time replacement comes with lofty expectations, ones that Butler embraces.
“That’s definitely some big shoes to fill, but that’s a good problem to have…It’s an opportunity I welcome. I wouldn’t want anything else.”
Butler, Johnson and Bouvier earned scholarships by working hard day in and day out. That will not change now that they have scholarships, but Bouvier acknowledged things are different, but in a good way.
“I just don’t have to think about it anymore. Every practice I was thinking, I’m still a walk-on. I gotta make plays to get a scholarship. I’d overthink things too much. Now I got a scholarship. I feel free. I can just go ball and do my thing.”
Bouvier is a different player now that he doesn’t have the walk-on tag hanging over his head, but he will not forget what it took to reach this point.
“It’s been a crazy ride with lots of ups and downs. I always believed in myself and knew what I was capable of. There’s no way around hard work. You gotta put it in everyday. My parents were just incredibly thankful. My mom was crying. She was about to make me cry. It was hard talking to her, but I’m just really…my parents have done so much for me. Being able to get this scholarship for them really meant a lot.”