EUGENE, Ore. — To the Oregon football program, Ben Butterfield has given four years of toiling in obscurity, his primary position and even his knee. This summer, it all paid off.
Butterfield, a fifth-year senior for the Ducks in 2013, was placed on scholarship by UO coach Mark Helfrich earlier this month, along with receiver Chad Delaney from nearby Elmira. They join quarterback Dustin Haines and running back Ayele Forde as the latest former walk-ons now enjoying scholarship status, the latter two having been awarded in the spring.
Making Butterfield unique from the others is that he's the second member of his family to take such a path. His older brother, Brian, also walked on out of Sherwood (Ore.) High, in 2006, and earned a scholarship as a redshirt junior in 2009, the year Ben first joined the Ducks.
"They must be doing something right in their family as far as how they raised them, and just the persistence," Helfrich said. "We need to tap their guidance in bringing guys up who work hard. They don't need to see the reward before they're willing to work, and to see that is neat."
The Butterfields follow in the footsteps of another recent UO brother tandem that walked on before earning scholarships, the Weavers. Tight end Jed Weaver joined the Ducks in 1994 and was on scholarship two seasons later, while center Dan Weaver walked on in 1999 and also was on scholarship after two seasons.
Of the Butterfield and Weaver brothers, Ben waited the longest to see his hard work rewarded, through little fault of his own. He might have been on track to get a scholarship as a redshirt junior, like his brother did, but tore his ACL late in the 2011 season and missed spring practice in 2012.
But by last fall, Ben Butterfield was back to proving himself as a diligent practice player and fearless special teams contributor. Once the NCAA's investigation wrapped up this summer and the program had a definite sense of its available scholarships for the 2013 academic year, Butterfield and Delaney were the beneficiaries.
"I trust our coaches, and they know how hard I play," Butterfield said. "I just left it in their hands."
The precedent his brother set was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it showed Ben that walk-ons can ultimately be rewarded. On the other, the family name might bring with it inflated expectations.
Now that he's on scholarship, "it gives me that incentive to work a little harder," Ben said. "I want to make sure they get their money's worth. I don't really care as much about the money stuff; it makes me feel good to know that I earned it, and that I can show people in my life I worked hard — and that if you work hard, it will pay off."
Like most collegians, Butterfield was a two-way player in high school, but he played receiver upon joining the Ducks. His earliest contributions, however, were on the kickoff team and punt return unit. Like Brian, Ben excelled in coverage on the kickoff team; unlike Brian, who played a wing position to guard cutback lanes, Ben played in the middle of the field, fighting through dense traffic to make a play.
"He was definitely a little more aggressive," said Brian, who recently married and bought a house in Sherwood, and works as an electrician for the company for which their father is vice president.
It was on kickoff coverage late in the 2011 season that Ben hurt his knee; he rolled his ankle, the knee buckled and he was out until the following fall. The injury, older brother Brian said, "definitely set him back" in Ben's pursuit of a scholarship.
"But the fact he pushed so hard through that and how fast he came back, that's pretty big," Brian said.
Ben Butterfield made another major sacrifice for the team in early 2012, after catching a pass for 11 yards in the season-opening win over Arkansas State, his third career reception.
Following safety John Boyett's decision to have season-ending knee surgeries, the Ducks were a bit thin in the defensive backfield. Figuring safety might be easier on Butterfield's own surgically repaired knee, and knowing he was smart enough to make an in-season switch, UO coaches urged him to try the other side of the ball.
Butterfield selflessly made the switch, while continuing to stand out on special teams, with 10 tackles in 12 games last season. He picked the brain of his best friend and roommate, UO safety Brian Jackson, and brings a better comfort level at the position into the 2013 campaign.
"I love it now," Butterfield said. "At first it was definitely confusing. That was the only thing; I just had to take the time to learn everything."
That he was willing to do so demonstrated the tenacity each brother brought to the task of proving himself with the Ducks. Both brothers agreed that was a reflection of their parents — their dad, Bill, overcame difficult childhood circumstances to build a successful career as an electrical engineer, and their mom, Tracie, raised the boys and their older sister while also running a business out of their home.
"My dad's the type of guy that, once he gets his mind set on something he won't stop until he gets it," Ben said. "He's so task-oriented, even if it's the biggest thing in the world, if he wants it he'll drop everything to get it done."
And of course, Ben could follow the example set by his older brother, Brian, who described their relationship as best friends as well as brothers.
"I knew I could do it if he did, because we're basically one and the same," Ben Butterfield said. "He said, 'It's not going to be easy, but you can do it.' "
As of this month, he did it.