NORCROSS - After last season's breakout performance, Norcross' Brice Butler already knew he was a very good player.
He just didn't know he was USC good.
But on the day before National Signing Day, in early February, he was offered a surprise scholarship by the national powerhouse.
"They got my videotape the day before signing day," Butler said, "and they thought I was a senior. So they were trying to their numbers right so I could get (a scholarship).
"And they called me that day."
Even though Pete Carroll's staff was mistaken about his grade level, there was no mistaking Butler's talent level.
It stood out so much on tape in fact that the Trojans offered him a full scholarship without so much as ever seeing him in a live
practice or game. And remember, this is Southern Cal - a school that basically handpicks the best prep talent in the country and then leaves the rest for the other 118 teams in Division I-A to divvy up.
So when Butler received a text later that day that read, "We're going to offer you a full ride," he realized something once and for all - he was big time.
"That was crazy," he said with a smile. "Because I
wasn't really expecting that. And to be honest, I didn't really like USC at the time.
"But getting an offer from them, I mean they don't offer everybody. So when I got that I was like, 'Whoa. I must be pretty good.'"
No argument here.
Not after what Butler did last season in leading Norcross to a Region 7-AAAAA championship and a spot in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
Playing opposite Alabama signee Darius Hanks, Butler caught 37 passes for 662 yards and nine touchdowns.
It was a breakout year for Butler, who caught just five passes for 58 yards as a sophomore, but it wasn't a surprise to anyone in the Norcross program.
"Oh, we expected it," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "We knew what he could do."
And he can do quite a lot. Not only is Butler bigger (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) and faster (a sub-4.5 40-yard dash) than almost any cornerback that tries to cover him, but he is also always working at his craft. It's not enough for him to just be more talented than his opponent.
Butler, the son of former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Bobby Butler, has been working with former Falcons wide receiver Stacey Bailey for the past three years on his route running and technique.
Apparently, that work has paid off quite nicely.
"The thing that Brice can do is he can go vertical," Maloof said.
"And from what all of the college coaches have told me, after watching him on tape, is that he's probably the best route runner in the nation right now."
The best route runner in the nation had his pick of colleges when the recruiting process began in earnest this spring.
But although he was high on schools like Notre Dame, LSU and Florida State at different points along the way, he kept coming back to USC.
Even though it was 3,000 miles away from home, it was the only place he really saw himself catching passes and scoring touchdowns.
"Coach Carroll told me, 'If we recruit anybody from out of state, we feel like they can go first round,'" Butler said. "So they have a lot of confidence in me. And I have confidence in myself."
Butler has plenty of confidence all right. And why wouldn't he, after his on-field performance last season and the 40-plus scholarship offers he received afterward?
And he knows the spotlight on him will be even brighter this season.
Since he started playing football, the Blue Devils senior has always been known as "Brice Butler, son of Bobby Butler." But this year he'll also be known as "Brice Butler, Southern Cal commit," and cornerbacks from around the state are going to try to prove themselves against the future Trojan.
"I'm just going to go out there and try to play my game," he said, "and if I play my game nobody can stop me. That's how I take it. And I know people will be gunning for me or whatever, but that doesn't really matter."
Because in the back of his mind he knows the defensive backs are much more scared of him than he is of them.
"That's kind of neat," he said with a laugh.
"But I don't like the fact that they back up (off the line of scrimmage) a lot. I would rather have man-to-man coverage all night."
Of course, that's not going to happen anytime soon.
No defensive coordinator in the state is going to design a scheme in which his cornerbacks have to play Butler one-on-one a majority of the time.
Because, as they all know by now, Butler isn't just a good wide receiver.
He's USC good.
SideBar: The Butler File
' Name: Brice Butler
' School: Norcross
' Class: Senior
' Position: Wide receiver
' Size: 6-foot-2, 180 pounds
' College choice: Southern California
' Other Division I-A offers: LSU, Florida State, Notre Dame, Georgia, Penn State, Arizona State and Florida among many others
' Had 37 catches and nine touchdowns last season
' Father Bobby was a long-time cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons
' Favorite music artist: Outkast
' Favorite food: Cajun pasta
' Favorite movie: "Remember the Titans"
' Best catch he ever made: "I would say the best catch I've made so far was last year against Peachtree Ridge. It was a diving catch and set up the game-winning field goal. But I'll say my best catch has yet to be made."
' Coach Keith Maloof's comment:
"He's done an outstanding job at working at being a receiver. The last two years he has worked really hard at what he wants to do. He's gotten better at running routes, he's gotten fast. He's really working at it."