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August 9, 2011

Butler trio well ahead of the game

IN ACTION: Ferguson | Kalambayi | LeMay

MATTHEWS, N.C. -- As Riley Ferguson, Peter Kalambayi and Uriah LeMay, describe it, they are practically inseparable. Spot one, they tell you, and the other two are probably somewhere nearby.

"We hang out all the time," LeMay said. "We're always walking together in school or playing video games. We do everything together."

That includes winning.

Each a football standout at Butler High, Ferguson, Kalambayi and LeMay are big-time talents whose abilities are measured both by their success and their scholarship offers. They not only have won with great frequency, but have impressed colleges in the process. The kicker is that each is only just now entering his junior season.

"It's fun coaching them," said Butler coach Brian Hales."They allow you to do so much stuff. It's like being a teacher in a gifted class. They challenge you to bring up more stuff, to deliver information, to bring in new things."

With many football teams, class-of-2013 players are only getting their feet wet. At Butler, Ferguson, the team's starting quarterback, Kalambayi, a linebacker and its top defender, and LeMay, a standout receiver, already are centerpieces of the program. And according to their coach, they are ultra-competitive players whom teammates look to for not only touchdowns and tackles, but direction.

"All you have to do is watch these guys compete in the weight room to see the pride they have," Hales said.

Butler, keep in mind, is no ordinary program.

At the school located in a lush suburb just southeast of Charlotte, winning big is customary. And it's expected. The Bulldogs are nationally ranked (No. 48 in the RivalsHigh100), own a stout 31-game winning streak and enter the 2011 season coming off back-to-back 4AA championships.

In recent years, Butler has produced five-star recruit Kris Frost, who signed with Auburn in 2011, four-star safety Spencer Adams (Clemson), four-star linebacker Hawatha Bell (North Carolina), four-star safety Robert Blanton (Notre Dame) and four-star quarterback Christian LeMay (Georgia) -- Uriah LeMay's older brother.

Now, the torch has been passed to Ferguson, Kalambayi and LeMay, three players who by the time they're seniors could find their way into the Rivals250. But while they are high school stars today, 12 months ago there was some uncertainty about each.

Back then, Ferguson never had started a game, Kalambayi was playing a new position and LeMay was entering the season without his brother, who had been the program's starting quarterback before opting to forgo his senior year to complete graduation requirements in a private setting after he was suspended for undisclosed reasons.

Erasing any doubt

They allow you to do so much stuff. It's like being a teacher in a gifted class. They challenge you to bring up more stuff, to deliver information, to bring in new things.
- Butler coach Brian Hales on his star trio
Growing pains might have been predicted by others, but not by the trio themselves.

"We couldn't look at it that way," Ferguson said. "We had to play and go out and win. They were expecting us to perform."

For Ferguson, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander who claims offers from Clemson, LSU, Michigan and Virginia Tech, the quick and unexpected transition from backup to starter went more smoothly than anyone at Butler had hoped. That's likely because as a ninth-grader, he started for the junior varsity on Thursdays, then was Christian LeMay's backup on Fridays.

"I played a lot because we'd be killing people," Ferguson said. "I got to throw a lot. I was prepared. And Christian helped me a lot."

In his first game as the starter, Ferguson passed for 294 yards. By season's end, he had thrown for more than 2,600 yards with 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

"He surprised me," Hales said. "It was a confidence matter. And the confidence is there."

By last August, Butler already knew it had a good one in Kalambayi. The only question was how he would pick things up at a new position. As a 6-foot-1, 201-pound freshman, Kalambayi was a significant contributor at noseguard and defensive end. In 2010, the physically gifted player was moved to inside linebacker.

Any concerns about him quickly vanished.

Kalambayi not only adjusted to the switch, but thrived, ranking among the team's top tacklers and developing into a player some believe could ultimately become a five-star recruit.

"I don't even know where to begin with Peter," Hales said. "He runs the 100 [meter dash] for the track team. He doesn't just run it; he's really good at it. Also, he has a 4.2 GPA. He's so smart. He's given the scouting report at the beginning of the week. He knows it by the end of the night. Before play begins, he's eliminated a lot of stuff that can happen just from his own studies. Then, you take the speed, strength, explosiveness and the fact he can zero in on a couple of things and that makes him that much faster, that much stronger."

Kalambayi is known by teammates for his big hits. Asked to describe them, LeMay, who scrimmages against Kalambayi, could think of only one word: "Headache." From his play, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Kalambayi has accumulated numerous offers, but at this stage Clemson and Florida are the teams to beat.

For Uriah LeMay, the 2010 season had the potential to be awkward because of his brother's situation. But having Ferguson as the team's replacement quarterback was a great option, and not only because of his talents.

"Me and Riley had been playing together since the eighth grade," LeMay said.

A big-bodied receiver (he's 6-1, 190), LeMay flourished last season, averaging more than 20 yards per catch. For good measure, he gained 8.42 yards a rush, which gave an already potent offense (Butler averaged 46 points per game) another dimension.

"Uriah did great," Hales said. "He's another kid who recognizes he's blessed with incredible talent. And because he's focused, he manages to get the most out of it."

Expecting greatness

With lots of help from Ferguson, Kalambayi and LeMay, Butler went 16-0 last season.

Today, expectations once again are through the roof. For Butler. And for Ferguson, Kalambayi and LeMay, the leaders of a strong 2013 class at the school.

Ferguson no longer is a rookie; he's a vet. Kalambayi is switching positions again, this time from inside to outside linebacker, a spot he think best fits his abilities. LeMay, who can play any receiving position, now is option No. 1 for Ferguson.

On the field, they hope to lead Butler to a third straight title. Each contends their relationship away from football can help contribute to that.

"There's no doubt," LeMay said. "They closer you are, the more you know that person. The better you know that person, the better you play together on the field."

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kneebs01@aol.com. You can follow him on Twitter @KeithRIVALS.



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