Just four years ago, Eric Butler was ready for life after football.
Enrolled at DeVry University with plans to become a computer programmer, Butler put sports in the rear-view mirror, after a career at Kansas City (Mo.) Northeast High came and went without college coaches so much as giving him a sniff.
Turns out the football itch was too annoying to ignore.
A nontraditional journey eventually brought Butler to Kansas University, where the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder has cracked the two-deep as a defensive tackle - while a wife, student loans and eligibility questions loom over his head.
"It's a crazy process," Butler said, "but they're working with it."
"It" would be trying to figure out when exactly Butler's college-athletics clock will expire. He graduated from Northeast in 2001 and enrolled at DeVry that fall.
Though DeVry is a business school with no sports, his eligibility clock started ticking at that point.
Eventually, Butler scratched his itch and made his way to Avila University, an NAIA school in Kansas City. After playing fullback and defensive end as a 225-pounder in high school, Butler was up to 260 when he lined up as a tight end for his first college football experience.
He played only one season at Avila, though, and in the summer of 2004 called KU assistant Clint Bowen looking for more action.
"I told him I was interested in walking on, and he told me when to be here," Butler said, "and that's when I showed up."
Butler was around for spring drills this year and quickly impressed the coaching staff. By the 2005 season opener - Butler's second college season and first at KU - he was a mainstay at defensive line on the depth chart.
He's listed as a sophomore, but it's not that simple. This is the fifth football season that has elapsed since Butler enrolled at DeVry.
He now has some flaming hoops to clear if he wants to come back.
"There is some gray area whether he has an additional year of eligibility or not," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "The proper procedure is, after the last game, you file for waiver status. Our athletic department will file for waiver status and kind of present our case for another year of eligibility for him."
Said Butler: "Best case, I'll probably get one to two more years. Worst case, I wouldn't be able to play at all."
Butler didn't appear to be too concerned, though he admitted that Saturday's game with Iowa State was on his mind, not paperwork that has to wait until after the season anyway.
Backing up James McClinton and Tim Allen on the interior of the defensive line, Butler vaulted up the charts faster than walk-ons usually do. It has made his nonscholarship title tough to remember - or pointless to remember to some.
"He's adjusted real well," Allen said. "He's doing perfectly fine. As for the walk-on situation, I feel that walk-on, scholarship : you're part of the team. If we can use you, we can use you."
Butler certainly has been used, too, registering 11 tackles (four for a loss), two sacks (one for a safety against Nebraska) and a fumble recovery, playing in all 10 games.
He has helped do what Mangino set out to do after last season - develop team depth. It was no textbook way to do so, though, and uncovering Butler - from DeVry, from Avila and from the dozens of guys wanting a chance to play Division I football through tryouts - still makes Mangino smirk.
"He just called and walked on here," Mangino said. "He's a pretty good player for us."