RENO - Ezra Butler wanted to play linebacker in the worst way, and it took a 4.6 40-yard dash late last spring to convince the Nevada football coaches he could do it.
Butler, who came to Nevada weighing 285 pounds, played as a back-up defensive lineman in Nevada's 4-3-4 defense last season. A year later and 30 pounds lighter, Butler has found a home at outside linebacker in the Pack's new 3-4-4 scheme, and he couldn't be happier.
"I'm loving it," said the 255-pound Butler after a recent practice. "I played middle linebacker in high school, and when I came here, they moved me to defensive line. I asked coach Sacks before the spring game if I could move to linebacker and he said no.
"After I ran the 4.6 coach (Barry) Sacks said I could move. It's great. I get a chance to run around and make plays."
In two games, he's done exactly that. Butler has nine tackles, including 2 1/2 behind the line and 1 1/2 sacks. He also knocked down a pass. He helped hold UNLV to 14 points, which is the best defensive effort turned in by a WAC team this season.
"I tell you what, he's progressing really well," said Sacks, the Pack's co-defensive coordinator. "This is a guy that played nose tackle against Hawai'i last year. He came into fall camp ready to go. He's really happy at outside linebacker. He's always wanted to do that.
"He hadn't played the position before. In the spring, he was re-habbing his shoulder after surgery. He was somebody we knew that was athletic. We projected him at the position (once he lost weight), but we weren't sure he could do it."
Butler spent the off-season rehabbing the shoulder, getting into better shape and dropping weight. It was a different guy that showed up to fall camp.
"I just ran and ran, and cut down on my food intake," Butler said. "I definitely liked fast food a lot, but I found I couldn't keep eating that way. I still have a burger, fries and a salad for lunch sometimes, and occasionally I'll have a steak."
And, he started using flaxmeal, which is a seed. He mixed it in with oats, wild rice and porridge. He described it as "high-energy food".
The result is a faster, more athletic player. He runs as well as any linebacker on the Wolf Pack squad. Butler is hoping to wipe out what proved to be a disappointing freshman season which was limited to eight games because of the aforementioned shoulder injury.
Butler wasn't even listed on the two-deep depth chart entering spring practice. Selevasio Fauolo, a JC transfer, and John Simpson, a redshirt sophomore, were running 1-2 on one side with J.J. Milan and Nick Fuhr on the other side. Butler eventually passed Fauolo and Simpson to earn one of the two outside linebacking spots.
"I wouldn't say I passed him (Fauolo)," Butler said. "All the outside linebackers play well. He (Fauolo) had an injury that set him back. I don't look at myself as above anybody. I hope to be athletic enough to play with these guys as the season goes on."
If the first two weeks are any indication, he's already shown that.
The Butler File
Position: Outside linebacker
Year in school: Sophomore
Major: Speech communication
High School: Calbasas High School