Eleven months ago, Brice Butler was in a different world. Mentally, he was not a Trojan. Just a former USC receiver working out on his own, trying to stay in shape.
Because of a rift between Butler and current USC head coach Lane Kiffin, the receiver from Norcross, Ga. felt his skills had been questioned. After the 2011 season, he distanced himself from the football program.
As his future got cloudier and less focused, the redshirt junior took a step back, closer to the known. He realized his career didn't need to be about the glory right now, as much as it should have been about the steady.
Butler said he wasn't the one to realize where he ought to be. It was God.
"I felt like God never really told me to run away from anything," Butler said. "So my decision to stay this year was big in stepping up to the challenge to see how the cookie crumbles."
But those crumbles have been sparse, if not bittersweet. While Kiffin has acknowledged Butler's work ethic and focus this season, Butler has seen younger players in true sophomore Robert Woods and true freshman Marqise Lee get on the field more often.
"As far as the season goes, statistic-wise for me, it hasn't been the best. It hasn't been what I thought it would be.
"But just not quitting, not giving up. I don't ever let anybody say Brice Butler quit football or he gave up on it," Butler said.
Catching just 10 passes for 102 yards in seven games, No. 19 has not been catapulted to stardom since his return. But he lights up when he talks about the impact he is making off the field.
Jotting down scriptures and tweeting out religious sayings has fueled Butler's resolve. His religiosity has strengthened his passion for competition. His twitter following, a solid 3,500 people, have been reading Butler preach online, where he tweets out a combination of football-speak and theology.
"Brice is really dedicated to his religion and stuff like that and he's really trying to spread the word between all the athletes around the school. I really like it," fellow veteran receiver Brandon Carswell said.
Butler is so dedicated that he chose to start a group on campus. Titled "Fresh Faith," his idea is both noble and novel.
The group, which meets bi-monthly on the campus of USC, combines speakers, modern music and a collective appreciation for a higher being. As Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner and other athletes have consciously tried to intertwine the two worlds of sports and religion, Butler too realized his potential impact.
"As far as athletes are concerned, especially football, you have a lot of people that look up to us," Butler said. "So as far as it working from a football perspective and trying to reach out, it gives [ordinary students] courage to do it."
Fresh Faith might, whether Butler admits it or not, have given him some courage, too. Lining up as an "X" receiver, opposite the tight end, Butler's size (6'4) and speed (he is quite fast) are vital to excel at the position.
And he's used to doing so. Growing up near Atlanta, he became accustomed to being the glorified, superstar athlete. The one who was going to make it in "the league." The one whose father played with the Atlanta Falcons. And the one who was going to put the Trojans back on top.
But in Los Angeles came the come-down. Here Butler learned humility. He redshirted his first year then caught 29 passes for 404 yards and three touchdowns the next two seasons with the Trojans. Then came the rife with Kiffin, and Butler pondered leaving it all: the university, his teammates, California. He wanted to end this tiresome battle and focus solely on playing the sport he knew he still loved.
Today, Butler talks to students about God with the same humility he used when deciding to stay. He says now he just wants to be a good example and a better person.
Running a student organization is hardly easy. To be a student-athlete at a high-profile university like USC, and President of Fresh Faith takes patience, long hours and putting in work few will ever see.
Fortunately for Butler, he's been doing just that the past four years.