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NAU Football

Northern Arizona receiver Emmanuel Butler (8) catches a pass during the first practice of the spring schedule at the Walkup Skydome.

If he has his way, Northern Arizona’s Emmanuel Butler will hold a trio of school records before the Lumberjacks reach the stretch run of the regular season.

The senior, returning from a season-ending shoulder surgery sustained in September, needs just 49 receptions, 501 yards and two touchdowns to tie Northern Arizona’s career records in the respective categories while he already holds the single-season records for yards and touchdowns.

“Now that I am going into my last year and I am this close to breaking every record, I kind of expect myself to break all the records and finish strong,” Butler said. “But I am more focused on just helping these guys win a championship, that's really the reason I came back.”

Rather than opt to begin his pursuit of a professional career, Butler elected to take a medical redshirt after playing roughly five quarters of his initial senior campaign. During his tenure at Northern Arizona, Butler has yet to play in an FCS playoff game while the Lumberjacks have finished tied for third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the Big Sky.

Given Butler’s total numbers accrued during his sophomore and junior seasons -- 133 receptions, 2,211 yards and 24 touchdowns -- any team success for the Lumberjacks will likely bring record-breaking performances.

Based on his per-game averages in his two standout seasons, Butler would be in position to tie the touchdown record of 28, currently held by Clarence Moore, in Northern Arizona’s home debut against Eastern Washington in the second game of the season.

Additionally the yardage record of 3,042, also held by Moore, could possibly fall in the fifth game of the season at Idaho State while Shawn Collins’ record of 201 receptions may come around Homecoming against Cal Poly.

“When I first decided to come to NAU and my receivers coach at the time was Tim Plough, I told him coming in I wanted to be the best receiver to ever play here,” Butler said of his conversation with the current offensive coordinator at UC Davis. “I want my name in the record books, my jersey retired; I want to be the best to be remembered here.”

Butler’s pursuit of the school records will come as he lines up all over the field. Splitting Butler wide on each side of the Lumberjacks offense, in the slot or stacked with another receiver, Northern Arizona’s staff hopes Butler’s usage as the primary weapon will present constant issues for opponents.

“It’s been great to have him out there ... you see the plays that he is making and he is his old self,” Lumberjacks offensive coordinator Aaron Pflugrad said of Butler, who has worn a non-contact red jersey at times in practice as a precaution.

“He has really made strides playing every single play at max speed and being that guy like Cooper Kupp, moving him around the field and having him understanding all the concepts and everything,” Pflugrad added.

While the pursuit of records and championships is driving Butler, the 21-year-old receiver also came away from his shoulder surgery humbled. Never before sidelined for the extent of time he was this past season, Butler learned to further appreciate playing the sport and cherish the moments he has remaining with his close friends on the Lumberjacks roster.

“It’s a blessing to be able to play the game I love again, it feels great to be around the guys and the coaches,” Butler said. “Honestly, I am just trying not to take anything for granted. Last year, I had my entire year taken away from me, and this year I am kind of starting to realize this game is a gift and it can be taken from you at any time.”

One of the players Butler will not get a second chance to play alongside is Elijah Marks, who has moved on with hopes to play in the NFL.

Marks has met with a handful of teams after the entire league got a look at Northern Arizona’s pro day in March. While Butler would have been going through the process along his former teammate and friend, he now has the opportunity to get a preview a year before needing to do so.

“It was kind of weird, because we were expecting our entire careers here to do it together, we expected to come out together,” Butler said. “It is definitely helpful having someone, especially one of my close friends like that, going through the entire process. He is letting me know what they are talking about and what they think of me. It’s kind of giving me an idea what it is going to be like without having to necessarily go through it myself.”

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Sports Reporter

Cody Bashore serves as the beat writer for Northern Arizona University basketball and football in addition to covering high school sports around Flagstaff for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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