This is Harrison Butker’s life in his first year out of college, having made a game-winning kick for the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football on his first day on the job – a ride with Uber or Lyft is an experience few have ever lived.
“It’s kind of funny because everybody here is a big Chiefs fan,” Butker said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We’ll be talking, ‘Did you see the game last night?’ ‘Yeah, I did.’ ‘Were you at the game?’ I’m, like, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Oh, I wasn’t able to make it, but I heard it was awesome.’ Then they’ll be, like, ‘The kicker was great, the rookie kicker.’ I’ll have to say who I am. ‘You’re Harrison Butker?’”
He is indeed Harrison Butker, Georgia Tech’s all-time leading scorer and perhaps the most impactful industrial-engineering degree holder in the AFC West. Life has rushed at him at a dizzying pace, but, he said, “I’m loving every moment of it.”
There is much to tell and so, with Butker’s narrational assistance, a recap of life since Tech:
He was drafted by Carolina in the seventh round in April, then engaged in a taut offseason and camp competition with returning veteran Graham Gano.
Butker: “It was competitive with Graham. We grew very close.”
The Panthers made the unusual decision to keep both kickers on the active roster through the first week of the season, perhaps hoping they could trade one or the other. It didn’t materialize, and Butker was cut and then added to the practice squad Sept. 14.
Butker: “That felt awful, even though they were telling me, ‘We want you to be back on the practice squad.’”
Practice squad was OK – he had developed a tight bond with the Panthers specialists – but he wanted more.
Butker: “The whole time, I’m thinking, ‘I’m ready for this. I’m ready to be a starting kicker in the NFL. I can do this.’”
On the afternoon of Sept. 25, a Monday, he got a call from his agent Jordan Hagedorn that the Chiefs were signing him off the Panthers’ practice squad. An hour and a half later, he was flying to Kansas City. He officially signed the next day.
Butker: “That whole week was probably the strangest week of my life. I’ve been in Atlanta my whole life, now I’m in Kansas City, a different part of the country. I’m so used to seeing Carolina blue and Panthers stuff, having been in Charlotte, and now it’s red, which is weird, having gone to Georgia Tech.”
He barely had time to get to know his teammates, and was living out of a hotel, but he felt ready.
Butker: “Honestly, being with the Panthers, that was kind of like my internship or whatever, like learning from Graham and growing. And now it’s like, I’m ready to go now.”
His parents (Elizabeth and Harrison Butker), fiancée (Isabelle Tehrani) and private kicking coach (Jamie Kohl) flew in for the Chiefs’ Monday night game against Washington on Oct. 2. It was, among other things, the first NFL regular-season game Butker ever attended.
Leading to it, Butker said he was nervous but had calmed down by warm-ups. Still, rushed by the play clock, he missed his first kick, from 46 yards. It didn’t shake his confidence, he said. At game’s end, with the score tied at 20-20 and eight seconds remaining, Butker was true from 43 yards.
Butker: “I didn’t think of the kick, like, ‘Oh, if I miss this kick, what’s going to happen?’ I was like, I’m going to go out and make this kick and the game’s going to be over.’”
Comparing it with his two most memorable field goals for the Yellow Jackets, it was less like the 53-yarder against Georgia that sent the 2014 game to overtime – “it was just so crazy, just playing at their stadium, we hadn’t beaten them in forever, I guess I had more doubt in my mind” – and more like the 24-yard game-winner against Virginia Tech earlier that season.
Butker: “I was just super confident the whole time and then after I made it I ran backward, which is what I did against Virginia Tech. It was kind of the same experience. I don’t know how to describe it.”
After the game, Chiefs coach Andy Reid anointed him “Buttkicker dot com” – a nod to his Twitter handle, @buttkicker7 (it was previously @buttkicker87, his jersey number at Tech). ESPN analyst Jon Gruden named him the “Gruden Grinder” for the game. Butker said teammates and fans have picked up on Reid’s nickname, and Gruden’s award was a highlight, also.
Butker: “I’ve heard he’s not big on kickers. The fact that I got that award and stuff, that was pretty cool that I was chosen by Jon Gruden, football guru.”
Butker moved into his apartment Friday and then merely went 5-for-5 against the Houston Texans on Sunday. He is just the third kicker since 1950 to make at least eight field goals in his first two games.
Butker: “Against the Texans, I was super confident. … I was happy to be able to follow up that (Monday night) game with the performance I had against the Texans, making those kicks, too.”
He has splurged on a Toyota Highlander, but is saving up for married life. Butker and Tehrani, who met at the Westminster School, are getting married in February.
Butker: “I’ve never been a big spender. As long as I don’t right now, I don’t think that’ll be an issue.”
The NFL life suits him.
Butker: “It’s cool. It’s still weird to me, the fact that I don’t have to worry about studying or doing homework or anything. I’m getting nine hours of sleep every night. That was probably the hardest thing I had to deal with in college, just being tired all the time. You don’t have time to get in nine hours of sleep a night. The fact that I can do that now – I’m not stressed out about school, I don’t have to go to class, I can just focus on football – it’s allowed my performance to get a lot better, and I’m getting paid. That’s another crazy part. I’m getting paid to do this. That makes everything better. But it’s funny – they treat you really well.”
Making key contributions to the NFL’s only undefeated team, a wedding in the offseason, a new nickname and the adulation of Missouri Uber drivers – Harrison Butker is indeed kicking butt.