Southern California wide receiver Brice Butler, right, hauls in a touchdown pass in front of Washington State safety Jay Matthews during a game last season in Los Angeles. Butler, a Norcross grad, is still after a national championship despite the Trojans' postseason ban.
When Brice Butler signed with the University of Southern California football team in 2008, the Trojans were the most dominant team in college football.
USC had won two national titles in five years and played for a third. By the time Butler graduated, he expected to have a ring of his own.
That dream might be a little tougher after USC was put on a two-year postseason ban, but in the quirky world of college football anything is possible.
The Norcross grad enters fall camp competing for the starting wide receiver spot for the Trojans, who hope to put the off-the-field issues behind them.
"Some guys were really upset about it. Some guys it made them hungry and want to show how good USC is and sort of prove it to everyone," Butler said. "We can still win the Pac-10 championship and if we go undefeated we could be ranked No. 1 by the AP."
After a four-year investigation, the NCAA imposed sanctions against USC in June for a lack of institutional control. The probation included a postseason ban, loss of 30 scholarships over three years and for the team to vacate any wins in which Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush participated in, including the 2005 Orange Bowl where USC won the BCS National Championship.
"(Brice) called me when the sanctions went down and he said, 'Dad, I've already got a Rose Bowl ring, I've got an Emerald Bowl ring, the only goal left I want as a team is to win the national championship,'" former Atlanta Falcon Bobby Butler said. "They seem to think that goal's still in place if they go undefeated, that the AP may give them a shot at (the national title)."
It wouldn't be the first time that happened. USC was crowned national champs by the Associated Press in 2003 despite not playing in the BCS title game. But the Trojans have a long road to climb to get back in the national title picture.
USC posted a 9-4 record last year and it's seven-year run as the Pac-10 champions came to an end. Throw in the probation and head coach Pete Carroll leaving for the NFL and it's not exactly what Butler expected his college experience to be like.
"The only thing we can do is control what we do in games and practices," Butler said. "We had nothing to do with Reggie. He didn't go to school with us an we don't know him, so we can't control it."
Carroll left USC in January to return to the NFL as the Seattle Seahawks' head coach. He was the coach that recruited Butler and who he thought he would win a national title with, but when Carroll left he never thought about transferring.
"Coach Carroll is a great coach, but I didn't come to SC just for Coach Carroll," Butler said. "SC is like the top football program of all-time. I came to play for SC football and not Coach Carroll football. It's a business and I know how it works."
It didn't take long for USC to find Carroll's replacement, hiring controversial Tennessee coach and former USC assistant Lane Kiffin. The former Vols coach made a splash in the SEC for calling out teams such as Florida and making secondary recruiting violations while posting a 7-6 record in his only season in Knoxville.
"He's a player's coach. He can understand some of our slang and stuff like that," Butler said. "Everything hasn't been great with discipline and stuff, but he's a cool guy. I've talked to Coach Kiffin more in one semester than the whole time Coach Carroll was here."
USC lost one starter at wide receiver from last year and the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Butler hopes to fill that void. He had a solid spring practice and emerged as one of the leading candidates to start for the Trojans this fall.
"I wouldn't say I'm starting, but I just have to keep doing what I've been doing and I'll be starting," Butler said.
Butler played in all 13 games for USC last season as a red shirt sophomore, making one start against Stanford. In that game he had a career high six receptions for 96 yards and one touchdown. Butler finished the season with 20 receptions for 292 yards and two TDs.
"I got my feet wet and understood the game better," Butler said.
Butler has three more years of eligibility, although he may not use it all. He plans to graduate with a degree in Public Policy Development in the next two years and then follow in his father's footsteps of playing in the NFL.
"The plan is two more years. When I got here the plan was three years and this is the second year," Butler said. "The plan is to have a very good season. This season is going to be big."
And who knows, maybe Butler will leave with that coveted national championship ring. Like the one his former Norcross teammate Darius Hanks won last season with Alabama.
"I talked to him after the game," Butler said. "I told him I'm glad you got your ring because you're not going to get another one. No, I was happy for him. I was glad he won a championship because we never won one together."