Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross grad Brice Butler, works out at CES Performance in Duluth on Monday.
When Brice Butler signed with Southern California out of high school, he figured a career with the Trojans would help propel him to the NFL.
Butler was one of the nation's most highly recruited receivers coming out of Norcross in 2008. USC was coming off a pair of BCS national championship game appearances and was producing dozens of NFL players.
It seemed like the right fit for Butler, who wanted to follow his father to the NFL.
But things didn't go as planned.
"Everybody has a story in this business of football," Butler said.
Butler struggled to get playing time and eventually left USC and played his final year of college ball at San Diego State University, a school not really known for producing NFL players.
Butler, 23, hasn't given up on his NFL dream. He's back in Gwinnett this winter training at Duluth-based Competitive Edge Sports, one of the nation's top places to get athletes ready for the next level.
"I've been training there all my life. If it's not broke, don't fix it," Butler said. "They've trained me since I was a young kid. They have a history of getting guys to the NFL, so why not? They are like family."
Since 1990, CES has put 1,300 players in the NFL. Butler hopes he's next.
"They are kicking my butt," Butler said of his training at CES.
Butler's father, Bobby, played 12 years in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. So it's always been Butler's dream to pursue a career in the NFL.
At Norcross, he led the Blue Devils to a pair of region championships in 2006 and 2007. He was a first-team all-state selection and was a U.S. Army All-American. Butler was a five-star recruit out of high school and committed to head coach Pete Carroll's program over Florida State.
He saw significant playing time as a redshirt freshman, but then Carroll left to be the head coach for the Seattle Seahawks and things weren't the same.
Under head coach Lane Kiffin, Butler's playing time diminished. In two years he had just 21 catches for 262 yards.
"It was a humbling learning experience," Butler said.
Butler graduated with his degree in public policy, management and planning from USC in 2011. With one year of football eligibility remaining, he transferred to San Diego State to get more playing time.
"I had to stay or go," Butler said. "It wasn't a negative departure. There weren't any bridges burned. I needed to move on."
Butler played in every game for San Diego State, helping the Aztecs to a 9-4 record and the first Mountain West Conference championship in 26 years. He was second on the team in receiving with 24 catches for 347 yards and four touchdowns.
"It went well," Butler said of his lone season at San Diego State.
The one year at San Diego State gave Butler the opportunity to show what he can do on the field. He's drawn the interest of NFL scouts, but right now he's not rated very high on team's draft boards.
"They know I can play and can catch the ball, but they don't know if I can run fast. I have to show them," Butler said.
That's where his training with CES has come into play. Butler is spending the next two months trying to improve his speed so he can wow scouts with an impressive 40-yard dash time at his pro day on March 19.
"Brice has all the intangibles. He's 6-3, has good speed, great hands and a great pedigree," CES owner Chip Smith said. "The only that probably hurts him is transferring for Southern Cal, but he had to do what was best for him. I think he can play."
Most early draft projections have Butler as a seventh round selection or possibly being picked up later as a free agent.
"I'm a bubble guy," Butler said.
He played in the Casino Del Sol All-Star game a week ago, which showcases senior players to scouts from the NFL, CFL and arena teams.
Butler is aware of the challenges ahead of him, but doesn't plan on giving up his dream to reach the NFL.
"I might not get drafted. I may go the free agent route and I'll have to show a team I can play," Butler said. "I'm just hoping for the best. If I get drafted that would be awesome."