"Peer pressure was tough," Butler says of resisting the temptation to join other kids in mischief around the neighborhood, "but I always used my mom as an excuse. When we were bad, she never whipped us. Instead she'd make you take a bath when you got home from school and start your bedtime routine at 3:30—go upstairs and do your homework and be in bed by seven. After some of that discipline, peer pressure didn't bother me anymore."
The discipline also kept LeRoy from straying too far after he finally was able to run the streets, which happened like a bolt from the heavens. When LeRoy was eight, his older sister, Vicki, accidentally knocked him out of his wheelchair after she raced down the stairs of the family's apartment without looking. LeRoy's leg braces flew off, and then he got up and walked without struggling. "It was just like Forrest Gump," Eunice says. "All of a sudden, he could run like the wind." Within minutes, LeRoy ran outside and joined a kickball game.
"Once I hit the ground, I was gone," he says. "I kicked the first inside-the-park home run in the history of the projects, and people were saying, 'I can't believe this.' They thought maybe I was faking it all those years. The doctors told me that my recovery might be temporary and not to worry if there was a setback. There never was."
Butler remains slightly pigeon-toed. As a result, he quickly wears away the arches of his shoes and acquires more pairs than Imelda Marcos. "I played in 24 games last year [including preseason and postseason] and used 54 pairs," he says. "I wear a new pair for every practice, and when it's over, they're destroyed." Butler regularly ices his feet to alleviate the pain, and he loathes artificial turf because his feet take a pounding on the hard surface.
LeRoy's sudden speed was a mixed blessing. By the time he was 10, he was the star player on a neighborhood football team and began attracting the interest of Pop Warner teams from wealthier parts of town. "My uncle asked for a little money on the side, but no one ever paid," says Butler, who stayed with his neighborhood team. After excelling in eighth-grade football, LeRoy was recruited by coach Corky Rogers to play at Robert E. Lee High, an athletic power across town, where he starred as a safety and running back.
LeRoy's newfound gift also brought him closer to the perils of street life. When he was 13, he says he was asked by a couple of older friends to assist them in a robbery. "They wanted me because I could run the fastest of anyone they knew," he says. "They didn't have a getaway car. They wanted me to be their getaway legs. They threatened to tell my mom it was my idea if I wouldn't go along with the plan. I decided there was no way I wanted to go to jail, and they never went through with it."
Until his senior year in high school, Butler says, the only white man he ever saw venture into Blodgett had been paid by his mother to dress as Santa Claus and deliver presents to her children. The next white visitor was Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who, says Butler, "was treated as a national hero" by the project's residents.
On one recruiting visit Bowden asked LeRoy to meet him and Seminoles recruiting coordinator Brad Scott (now South Carolina's coach) at a gas station near Blodgett and escort them to the Butlers' apartment. As they reached the entrance to the project, Butler recalls, "a bunch of dudes who had been drinking surrounded Coach's car and banged mi ii with a lead pipe. They said, 'What are y'all white people doing here?" Brad nearly peed in his pants. He pointed to the Florida State logo on his shirt and said, 'We're here to recruit LeRoy.' The dudes started smiling and said, 'Oh, follow us, we'll take you in.' "
While a junior at Florida State, Butler brought home Seminoles star Deion Sanders. Shortly after his arrival, Sanders saw a man chasing another man through the park and whacking him with a two-by-four in broad daylight. Says Durham, "Deion was so scared he told me, 'I'll sleep with one eye open.' "
Having survived such mean streets differentiates Butler from two of the people closest to him—-his longtime girlfriend, Rhodesia (pronounced ro-DEESH-uh) Lee, and Edgar Bennett, a Packers halfback who was also Butler's teammate in high school and college. Lee and Bennett came from two-parent, middle-class households in Jacksonville.