Week 9: Berlin (7-0) at No. 9 Bloomfield (7-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
BLOOMFIELD – This summer at a camp, the Bloomfield seniors were tasked with giving their senior speeches in front of their teammates.
Some knew Ky’Juon Butler’s story, some didn’t. Life hasn’t been easy for the Bloomfield star running back.
“My dad has been in and out jail my whole life,” Butler said. “My mom went to jail my sophomore year.”
Butler lived with a friend and then a teammate while his mom was incarcerated.
“We all knew immediately he was going through something,” Bloomfield coach Ty Outlaw said. “It’s hard for him to express his feelings, so he didn’t really come out and say ‘I need help.’ We just started helping him.”
They helped him anyway they could.
“This coaching staff is amazing. During the whole time, they were looking out for me, making sure I had what I needed,” Butler said. “They made sure I ate, some nights I didn’t have food, I didn’t have money. They made sure I had clothes on my back and somewhere to sleep.”
At one point, Butler even considered ending his football career.
“It was hard. It’s still hard. He has been through a lot,” Outlaw said. “Any time one of your parents is incarcerated, it’s tough on you as a kid. He’s been through a lot and has overcome a lot.”
Instead, Butler remained on the field and used the game he loved as an outlet for everything going on in his life.
“Some nights I thought about giving up and getting a job to help out,” he said. ”I could get a job now, but football can help me in the future.
“Football kept my mind straight, because I knew, somehow, I had to fight to get past this,” Butler said. “So I took football as the route.”
Butler doesn’t have a team for next season, but all options are open – including taking a post graduate year.
“His speed, he has the same quickness. His burst of speed has gotten so much faster,” Outlaw said. “He has a switch that he turns on and you know he means business.”
Butler saves that switch for when he steps onto the turf.
“When I go on the field, everything is just gone,” he said.
Over the summer, Butler went to Bloomfield High – on his own – and ran hills to increase his speed and explosiveness.
So far this season, Butler has exploded.
He has rushed for more than 100 yards in every game this season. He has rushed for over 200 in three of those games, amassing 1,271 yards and 14 touchdowns in seven games.
Defensively, he has 33 tackles and 1.5 sacks at outside linebacker.
“He’s been through a lot of adversity,” Outlaw said. “He’s overcome a lot. He is a fighter, he doesn’t quit on himself.”
Butler also has multiple touchdowns in every game this season, except for one, leading the Warhawks to a 7-0 record.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Outlaw said. “Obviously, Ky’Juon is a great running back, one of the best running backs in the state.”
As a freshman, Butler was a starter on the 2015 team that won the Class S championship – 31-20 over Ansonia. He played middle linebacker on that team, making 110 total tackles, which was good for third best on the team.
Now as a senior, Butler is using his experience to lead his team, hoping to another state title.
“I think it is so important to have someone who has been there before,” Outlaw said. “Ky’Juon is a leader, he is a leader on our offense, he is a leader on our defense. He has been there before.
“We’re 7-0 and on his back we are going to try and finish the season,” Outlaw added.
Despite the big numbers on the field, Butler isn’t one for the spotlight.
“It’s hard for me because I like to keep to myself. Sometimes I am a loner,” he said. “I don’t really like showing my true colors.”
Only his coaches and teammates get to see the real him.
“He’s a quiet person,” Bloomfield senior David Robinson said. ”He’s not really a rah-rah kid. He sits down, listens to his music, does his work. He’s pretty funny with his teammates.”
“You really don’t know when he is joking around,” Outlaw said. “He has such dry humor.”
Butler moved back in with his mom after she was released around the end of last year’s school year.
“It’s good, she got everything together,” he said. “She got everything situated.”
With a sense of stability for the first time in some time, Butler looks back on what each and every teammate, friend and coach has done for him.
“I love them like they are family. We’re probably one of the closest teams,” he said. “We really help out anybody because I know how it feels not to have help.
“It’s really special,” he added. “Because not everybody is willing to accept another person and feed another mouth.”
It took eight weeks, but Berlin Week has finally arrived.
“We feel like it has been on everyone’s calendar,” Outlaw said. “We’ve been prepping for this game since last year. We both know we are two good teams and we would been playing each other. We were hoping that both teams would be undefeated and here we are.”
Last season, Berlin beat Bloomfield 23-14 and with both teams coming into the game unbeaten, the stakes are higher than ever.
That said, the Warhawks are not over-hyping the game.
“We know Berlin is always a big game for us,” sophomore quarterback Daron Bryden said. “But we’re just going to prepare for them like it’s a regular game for us.”
Bloomfield’s high-powered offense of 45.1 points per-game will be tasked with getting on the board early and often against a strong Berlin defense.
“We have to play well,” Outlaw said. “We can’t come out slow, we have to get out of the gate fast. It we play well, we feel confident.
“Running the ball, throwing the ball,” he added. “We can do it all. We feel like it is our time.”
The Warhawks’ defense is facing their toughest test this season.
Led by a dominate four running back set that rushes for 206 yards per game and 20 touchdown passes by quarterback Kevin Dunn this season, Berlin’s offense has scored an equally impressive 41.7 points per-game.
Bloomfield’s defense has allowed just 19 points this season.
“We have to stay together and fight to the end,” Butler said.