Comeback Kids: Butler has Bought into a More Resilient Brand of Football

Butler football celebrates win over USD.

The final pass Butler quarterback Bret Bushka would throw in the Bulldogs comeback win over the University of San Diego in Week 12 was a seven-yard completion to wide receiver Jared Suchevitas, setting the Bulldogs up for a 4th & 3 on the Torero’s 39-yard line with just seconds left in the game.

The two connected in bounds and before Suchevitas even hit the ground, redshirt senior kicker Luke Zurak was making eye contact with head coach Mike Uremovich, uttering just four words.

“Coach, we got this.”

Uremovich nodded in recognition before running the down the sideline to call a timeout.

“From there I kind of knew we were going to kick it because I know the type of coach he is – he believes in his players,” said Zurak.

The stadium held its breath as the Cleveland, Ohio native lined up the 56-yard attempt before deftly sending it through the uprights and securing a 26-23 victory for the Bulldogs, their seventh of the season and fifth in a row.

“When we got the ball, he was like ‘hey, I’m good from 60, I can make it from 60,’” recalled Uremovich. “I thought they were going to ice him, but they didn’t. I don’t think anybody thought he was going to make it. But when he kicked it, I just watched the protection and then I watched the returner and when he turned around and watched the ball go through and I was like ‘I think we made it.’”

The sideline erupted as both Butler players and coaches rushed the field to congratulate Zurak and celebrate the walk-off win. They eventually made their way to the stands, thanking the multitude of Butler fans that showed up to support the team.

It was a perfect, harmonious moment built on the backs of trust, faith and hard work. It was a moment the Butler family had been waiting for.

“The vibe around Butler football this whole calendar year has been much different,” explained Zurak. “The parents, the family members, everyone that comes to the games – they are incredible, they’ve travelled extremely well. It’s awesome to feel their support all the way across the country like that.”

Uremovich agreed that the Butler fans have been phenomenal this season, having finally acquired a taste for winning.

“This team was 3-8 last year and the year before that they didn’t win a game – So in the last two years they have won three football games,” reminded Uremovich. “Now we are having some success and its obviously fun because its all new, they aren’t spoiled by it. If you go somewhere and win for a while, the fans get spoiled you know. They’re not.”

Uremovich’s regime comes off the heels of a 2021 season that saw the Bulldogs go 3-8, winning only one Pioneer Football League game. He was thrilled to be at the helm of a program again and saw right away that the team needed a firm hand.

“I always want to coach a tough, disciplined team,” said Uremovich. “Now what you do on offense and defense changes a little bit with your talent every year but we always want to be tough and disciplined and we want to recruit good kids.”

It is clear both on the field and in the locker room that the things Uremovich values have quickly aligned for the players as well.

“Coach U likes to bring a lot of aspects of the armed forces into our football lives,” said Zurak. “Obviously, our lives are not on the line like people in the military are. I know his brother was in the armed forces and it’s something that’s near and dear to his heart. Having grit and toughness, putting yourself out there on the line for your teammates is something that he absolutely values to the highest degree and you can feel it for sure. He doesn’t put up with a lot of little stuff. He’s a very intimidating, tough guy so you can definitely feel it.”

The newly-minted head coach didn’t just bring a new mentality to Butler, he bought an old friend as well.

“He can always work on my staff no matter what,” proclaimed Uremovich of his childhood friend, Defensive Coordinator Jeff Knowles. “It came down to Butler and one other opportunity and he wasn’t going to be a coordinator there but it was going to be in Division 1. But he said ‘I really like calling my defense.’ And I think, the way it ended at Temple he had a bad taste in his mouth. He’s got a lot of pride in what he does so I think he wanted to get another crack at being a coordinator and doing a good job. Down the road, he will get an opportunity now having coordinated this defense.”

In 2021, Butler gave up 403 yards per game and about 35 points per game. This year, the Bulldogs surrendered only 360 yards per game to opponents, holding them to just 22 points per contest.

“Coach Uremovich and Coach Knowles are like a dynamic duo,” chuckled Zurak. “They’ve known each other a very long time. They are masterminds of football. You know I’m just a kicker so I don’t get the insight day-to-day, but just hearing some of the stuff they are bringing up, coaching points and what not, its stuff that as just a football fan or even someone who has been around the game for so long, it’s just small things that you would never think about. Yeah, they’re incredible, they’re doing an amazing job turning this program around. It’s already turned around.”

Butler finished the season 7-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the conference behind St. Thomas (MN), Davidson and Dayton, who they defeated 31-0 back in early October. They led the conference in net yards per punt (37.03), kickoff returns (40.61 yards per return), fourth-down conversions (61.9%), kickoff coverage (39.2 and red zone offense (96.15%).

But beyond the stat sheet, Uremovich has found a program that values the game of football. With Butler being a non-scholarship school, every single player is out on the field because he wants to be, because it’s one more chance to play the game he loves.

“This has been refreshing for me because for the last however many years, 18 years, I’ve been in 1A football and the goal is to get to the NFL and make as much money as you can and that’s a worthy goal,” admitted Uremovich. “But these guys, most of them know they aren’t going to the NFL but they love football, they are non-scholarship. They are getting to play FCS football – like we played South Dakota State this year, they are number one so that was a great experience but these guys love playing football. It’s been fun coaching them.”

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