Football: Mount Carmel QB Don Butkus looks to diversify offenseDon Butkus, Jr. looks to pass at Soldier Field as the Mount Carmel bench watches from behind. Patrick Gleason ~ For the Sun-Times
Mount Carmel football opponents, consider yourself forewarned: the Caravan offense could be a little more diverse this fall.
No, the option attack that has served the Caravan so well over the years isn't going away. But with senior quarterback Don Butkus back for his second season as a starter, there could be more passes in the mix.
"It feels a lot better," Butkus said during a break in the Richards 7-on-7 tournament earlier this summer. "I've got a lot of experience under my belt now and I feel like I can take control of the offense a little bit better this year than I did last year."
It takes a bit of a perfectionist to find fault with what Butkus did in essentially his first year of extensive action under center. He didn't play quarterback as a freshman and as a sophomore served as the varsity backup for Chris Sujka, who's now playing college baseball at Indiana.
That season, Butkus ran for 100 yards and passed for another 152 with two touchdowns. More importantly, in his mind, he saw up close and personal what's required to play in Champaign on Thanksgiving weekend.
"When I was a sophomore, we were on the state (runner-up) team so we know what it takes. We want to get back to the state (title) game. We want to get back to Champaign."
Butkus and the Caravan played on the last weekend of the season again last year, but it was in the Prep Bowl (a 34-20 win over Simeon). Mount Carmel fell 21-7 to Bolingbrook in the second round of the IHSA Class 8A playoffs, a loss that didn't look so bad when the Raiders went on to win the state title.
For Mount Carmel to make another deep playoff run, Butkus likely will have to come up big. And veteran Caravan coach Frank Lenti wouldn't be surprised to see that happen.
"He understands the offense better," Lenti said. "We've been able to expand the passing game."
In fact, Butkus was a pretty good thrower last year when the Caravan (who finished 10-4) decided to go to the air. He completed 103 of 172 passes (59.9 percent) for 1,203 yards with 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also ran 109 times for 571 yards and 13 TDs, accounting for almost half of the Caravan's 60 scores.
But he's not satisfied, saying he wants to improve "almost everything, trying to tweak everything. You can always get better."
Specifically, Butkus said, job one is "trying to get my drops a little better, my five-steps; try to get them a little more crisp ... get the ball to my wide receivers and let them make a play."
One of those receivers is a fellow senior who has been snagging passes from Butkus for about as long as he's been throwing them: Jason Gasser,
"It helps a lot when you know a guy and the chemistry's there," Butkus said. "You know where he's going to be running. I know where he wants the ball."
And opponents know they'd best respect the Caravan passing game even more this season with a more experienced Butkus running the show.