Emmanuel Butler has always thought of himself as an underdog.
Even when the wideout was lighting it up at Mountain Pointe High, he had just one school take a chance and offer him a scholarship: Northern Arizona University.
“I’m someone that has been getting overlooked all my life,” Butler said. “I’ve had a chip on my shoulder because of that. I feel like every opportunity I have to show everything God has blessed me with – my skill set – I try to take full advantage of that.”
Butler did that at NAU.
The 6-foot-3, 217-pounder caught 187 passes for 3,217 yards and 33 touchdowns in four years for the Lumberjacks. His production could have been higher had he not suffered a dislocated shoulder and partially torn labrum two games into his junior season.
The injury was part of the reason Butler elected to return to NAU for his senior year. That, and the thought of helping lead the Lumberjacks to a Big Sky Conference Championship. But NAU fell short.
“I wanted to help my team get that but we didn’t so it’s kind of disappointing the way that I left,” Butler said. “I did everything I could to help my team.”
Butler’s stock rose following a strong performance at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. He did 11 reps on bench press, had a 36-inch vertical and 115-inch broad jump. He ran a 4.22-second 20-yard shuttle, but didn’t run the 40-yard dash.
He saved that for his Pro Day on March 27.
Instead of participating in his Pro Day up in Flagstaff, Butler decided to come back to the Valley. 10.6 miles away from Mountain Pointe at Arizona State University – one of the schools who overlooked him in high school – Butler worked out in front of 27 NFL Scouts and several more from the Canadian Football League and the Alliance of American Football League.
Butler ran a reported 4.48-second 40.
“I felt like I came out here and performed to the best of my ability,” Butler said. “I was just trying to show them the best version of myself.”
Butler was joined by Chandler High standout N’Keal Harry, Hamilton High alum Casey Tucker and Higley High alum Quinn Bailey, all of whom just finished their careers at ASU.
“We have some talented guys out here,” Butler said. “I feel like not only the East Valley but the state of Arizona we have a lot of talented guys.”
Butler looked on as Tucker and Bailey, the only offensive lineman, concluded workouts for scouts. Then he joined Harry and other wideouts on the field. The group caught passes from ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins.
“I’ve been preparing for this every day the past three months,” Butler said. “I devoted my time and all of my effort into becoming the best football player I could become. I feel like I did pretty good.”
Butler’s impressive showing at Arizona State is something he became accustomed to during his career at NAU.
As a sophomore in 2016, Butler had 7 receptions for 118 yards against the Sun Devils. NAU was blown out by ASU 44-13, but Butler’s sensational one-handed grab is something he and Sun Devil players still talk about.
“Me and (Renell) Wren were talking about it earlier,” Butler said. “Every time I step on the field I want to dominate the team across from me. That’s a cool memory.”
Butler’s work ethic and underdog mentality has had some call him one of the biggest sleepers in the 2019 NFL Draft. He left ASU after his Pro Day workout pleased with his performance and hopeful for a team to take a chance on him just like NAU did in 2014.
“Hopefully they love me for me,” Butler said, “and hopefully I can help some of these guys win a few football games next year.”
No matter where he winds up when the NFL Draft kicks off on April 25-27, Butler will take any chance he gets. Even through his long journey to NAU and through the draft process, few things about Butler remain certain.
He says he will never stop trying to outwork his opponent, and he will never forget where he came from.
“When I think about Mountain Pointe, I think about all of my teammates, the close brothers I had there and those who I am still close to today,” Butler said. “I want to be able to come out here and not only put on a show for myself and my family, but for the people who have supported me and who have been with me since Mountain Pointe.
“I’m proud to say that I am from Mountain Pointe High School.”