James Butler wants to be Facebook famous. Among family, at least.
After his 114-yard, one touchdown performance for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats got him on the CFL’s Week 11 Honour Roll, his mom made sure to post the accomplishment on social media. And he’d love nothing more than to give her more Facebook content after he visits B.C. Place on Saturday for his first game against the team he broke into the CFL with.
“That’s always my biggest thing every week. If my mom could post it on Facebook, I know I played pretty well,” he said with a laugh on Wednesday. “If my mom, my aunties, my cousins are all reposting the post that my mom put on Facebook, then I did my job.”
He’s been filling the job description of No. 1 tailback for Hamilton, ranking sixth in the rushing race with 520 yards and a CFL-best five rushing touchdowns through nine games.
Butler left B.C. in the off-season for greener pastures — with ‘green’ being the operative word. Hamilton’s reported two-year offer of $125,000 per season was far in excess of anything the Lions could afford, and they reluctantly let their 1,000-yard running back go.
Close friend Jameer Thurman joined him from the Calgary Stampeders, and B.C. left tackle Joel Figueroa also went to Hamilton, but won’t travel Saturday, as he’s on the six-game injured list.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs. B.C. Lions
Saturday, 4 p.m., B.C. Place
TV: TSN. Radio: AM730
The move also brought the Chicago native closer to home — the Windy City is but a mere seven-hour drive away — and being in Hamilton has a far more familiar feel than the West Coast vibes of Vancouver.
“I like it. It’s cool,” said the 28-year-old Butler. “It kind of reminds me of home, being a Midwest guy. It’s a little grimy, gritty, which I like, and obviously the fan base is super-cool; and they’ve welcomed me with open arms.”
Butler had 1,060 yards rushing last season, second-most in the CFL, and is on pace to break the four-digit threshold again this season. But overall, the results just haven’t been there for the Ticats in 2023.
They lost, then regained, then lost starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to injury, and have been platooning Matthew Shiltz and Taylor Powell under centre — neither of whom are in the top 10 of CFL passers. After losing their first three games, the Ticats won two straight, then swooned to drop in four of their last five, including a 24-10 defeat at the hands of the formerly winless Edmonton Elks last week.
That loss at home was the first since the Ticats — who are averaging the second-fewest points in the CFL — parted ways with assistant head coach and offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell. Scott Milanovich was elevated to take over the play-calling duties. But even Butler’s second big triple-digit game of the season couldn’t help Hamilton avoid their second straight home loss.
“It’s just your normal ebbs-and-flows of a new team,” said Butler. “A lot of new guys, a lot of new faces. This whole team was kind of brand new when we got here, and we’re like figuring each other out as we go. … And I promise, it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish. We still are in the thick of it at this point in the season; everything we want is still ahead of us.”
The Saskatchewan Roughriders had lost four of their previous five games before they beat B.C. last week, so Leos coach Rick Campbell isn’t listening to the external chatter painting the Ticats as pussycats.
“When you watch film in this league, every team is capable. Obviously there’s some teams that don’t have the record they want, but there’s no bad team where you throw on the film and say, ‘Well, these guys just don’t look good or they don’t have good players.’ That’s not the case,” he said. “You have to play well to beat people in this league.”
The Ticats (3-6) haven’t been to B.C. Place since July 21, 2022, when they lost 17-12. The Lions (7-3) haven’t tasted defeat at the Dome this year, and don’t plan to this weekend either.
“At the end of the day, they’re a professional team. They got James Butler … and you know how J.B. is going to come in. He’s going to want to run the ball,” said Lions corner Garry Peters. “They got a lot of good weapons around the quarterback, so we’re not going to take them lightly. It’s a big challenge; we want to come out and make a statement.”
Butler’s yardage total has come it in spite of the Ticats ranking last in rushing attempts (144) and averaging the second-fewest yards per game (82.6). And he’ll be facing a defence that is conceding the fewest points, net offence and second-fewest rushing yards, but those are just numbers to Butler — just like his former friends will be across the line of scrimmage.
“I’m super-excited to come back. Those are my brothers, for sure,” he said. “Obviously this week, those guys are jersey numbers, just like whenever I would play Jameer in Calgary. That’s my dog, 16 out of 18 weeks. That week, he’s No. 56 on Calgary. So just like this week, it’s No. 20 on B.C., No. 2 on B.C.
“I’ll try to not make it more emotional than what it needs to be. It’s just my 10th game against a nameless, faceless opponent. I’m always trying to not make any game bigger than what it is.
“Those guys are great players; they’re balling and flying around. They’ve been shutting a lot of guys down, so I’m just excited to see how I match up honestly.”
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