LAKELAND, Fla. -- It was a successful homecoming for running back Steward Butler. The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder couldn't stop smiling and taking pictures with the family, friends and members of the Lakeland (Fla.) program who have embraced his return.
Butler's 238-yard performance in a 27-14 victory over Venice (Fla.) on Friday night didn't include a 75-yard touchdown that was called back on a holding penalty, but even that couldn't take the smile off of Butler's face.
"I'm just happy to be back in this program and around these people," Butler said. "These aren't my teammates, they are my family. They mean everything to me.
"I wouldn't be back here if I didn't love these people -- the players, the coaches and the community. And they have showed me what real support is all about."
When he was a sophomore, Butler looked like Lakeland's next great running back. He rushed for almost 400 yards as the third option in a running back rotation with slot back Javares McRoy, a Florida commit, and athlete Ben McRoy, who is now at Texas Tech.
But unfortunately things don't always go as planned. It was a story that has been told too many times before. Butler was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd and he had to get away.
"I was going through a lot of problems at the time," Butler said. "I'm back now and Lakeland is going to keep me on the right track."
Butler landed at Oviedo (Fla.) for his junior season and gained more than 1,000 yards and scored eight touchdowns in leading the Lions to a playoff berth. The time away turned out to be the best thing for Butler on and off the field.
"He's matured and we're proud of the changes that he's made in his life," Lakeland coach Bill Castle said. "He's really getting there and he's working hard.
"On the field he brings everything he's got and he's going to get better as the season goes along."
The hard work has paid off with an offer from West Virginia, the only major offer he has right now and it sounds like it's the only offer he needs.
"I really want to be in a situation that utilizes its players' talents and runs a similar offense to what we have at Lakeland. That's what they have at West Virginia," said Butler, who visited Morgantown over the summer. "I loved the area and I got a chance to hang out with Noel [Devine]. Everyone seems real close and supportive there."
Butler says that USF, UCF, Rutgers and Boston College are all in touch frequently and even though West Virginia is high on his radar, he's not ready to pull the trigger yet.
"Right now I just want to focus on this team and winning state," Butler said. "I want a ring."
McRoy sticking with Gators
Wide receiver Javares McRoy had a fairly quiet night by his standards. The 5-8, 170-pound receiver hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass but had another one called back.
"Yeah, we'll have to work on those penalties," Castle said. "But everyone knows what Javares is capable of."
McRoy made a switch to Florida from Texas Tech and despite receiving contact from Georgia and Texas Tech, he says he's all Gator.
"I'm good, I don't think I'm going to take any visits," McRoy said. "Whenever those schools call I just tell them that I'm committed to Florida."
McRoy said he was planning on attending Saturday's game between Florida and USF.
Phillips has leader
Venice 2012 offensive lineman Omari Phillips prepared for the season by focusing on his conditioning, getting in shape and dropping about 10 pounds.
"I'm about 6-6, 262 pounds right now," Phillips said. "I knew I was going to have to play both ways this season so I dropped a little weight to get in the best shape I could."
Phillips says Florida is his leader and he's also looking at Miami and Clemson.
"I'll probably commit at the end of the season," Phillips said.
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.