Devon Butler, a linebacker on the NIU football team, spoke to the public on Friday for the first time since being shot off campus on April 5.
Butler had been recovering at Kishwaukee Hospital, then at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford before being released as a patient on April 19. Since being released, Butler has been recovering at the house of NIU linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz.
Along with NIU head coach Dave Doeren, Butler opened the afternoon press conference in the Justin McCareins' Auditorium at the Yordon Center with a brief statement of thanks.
"First and foremost, I would like to thank everyone for all their prayers, calls, text messages, and all my get well messages while in the hospital," Butler said. "Those were a few days that I definitely don't want to relive."
Butler kept the focus on his recovery, instead of the specifics of the shooting. The biggest obstacle to overcome seems to be a collapsed lung. For the next six months, Butler will be concentrating on improving his breathing with a doctor-prescribed machine designed to help expand his injured lung.
"Right now it's not too much rehab," Butler said. "It's just more basically getting back on my feet, walking around, getting my strength back; doing things like eating and doing a lot of breathing exercises and stuff like that. In about six months, I will be able to do things like exercise my legs and basically start the physical therapy."
Butler confirmed that, instead of trying to get back on the field for 2011, he will take his redshirt year and concentrate on returning to the field for 2012.
Until his return, Doeren said that Butler will be a coach on the sidelines, and will be with the team in 2011 as much as the recovering linebacker wants to be.
"Eventually, he'll probably be around more than we want him," said Doeren with a laugh. "But there is no itinerary to where he is going to be. As much as he wants to be here, he will be here."
The emotion in Doeren's voice was easy to detect on Friday afternoon. The first-year head coach is only four months removed from first being introduced to the Huskies, but the smile on his face when talking about Butler's recovery was bigger even than the one he had upon being hired.
Doeren didn't claim that he would react the same way with every one of his players. Instead, the former linebackers coach cited his and Butler's similarities as to why they have become so close, so fast.
"I'm a linebacker guy, and he's a linebacker, so I took an immediate attention to Devon," Doeren said. "I told him I would be on him because I saw greatness in him since the first day I got here. I know [Butler] has a lot of special things ahead of him."
It didn't take long for Butler's focus to return to football following the shooting. After being released from his first surgery, the junior's lone question had nothing to do with the bullet that was threatening his life.
"You know even the first day when I got out of surgery, I had some of my teammates there," Butler said. "And the first thing I found myself asking was ‘how did practice go?' So, that definitely didn't take long."
Butler will be in attendance on Saturday when the NIU football team will conduct its annual spring game.
The classroom will be Butler's priority after Saturday. The junior will concentrate on making up any work he missed while in the hospital. Anything Butler learns from his classwork, though, will pale in comparison to what he will take away from the shooting.
"I have been a student here for two years, and I've heard it said many times, but given my experience, I have found the new meaning of ‘forward, together forward'" said Butler.