SAN ANTONIO — Note: The above video is from an August, 2019 story on L.J. Butler and the Wagner Thunderbirds.
L.J. Butler, the most prolific high school running back in Greater San Antonio the past two seasons, is no longer a Wagner Thunderbird.
Butler, who will be a senior this season, confirmed Wednesday night that he has transferred to Judson and registered at the Converse school on June 11.
"I'm definitely excited because Judson's got a pretty good team already," Butler said. "I feel like we're going to be better and have a chance to take it all the way. I know a lot of the guys at Judson. We've been friends since middle school.
"Whenever they found out I transferred, they texted me and said, 'Come on, bro. Come work out with us.' They've really welcomed me and taken me in. It's just a matter of learning the Judson system. I think I'll fit in. They've got a great offensive line."
Wagner coach Charles Bruce took Butler's transfer in stride.
"L.J. is a good young man and I wish him the best," Bruce said. "He did an great job for us. He's an outstanding runner who could also play slotback because he's got good hands."
Butler said his parents are having a house built and moved into the Judson district after the home they were living in "sold real fast."
"We had to get another house to live in for now, so we moved (into the Judson district)," Butler said. "It was just more convenient for me to go to Judson."
In the end, Bruce said he understood why Butler's family moved.
"I get it," he said. "Sometimes you're going to lose a player whose family moves to another town or is moving up. I would never stand in the way of that."
Butler said he mostly has worked out on his own during the coronavirus pandemic, but participated in one workout with Judson after the Rockets started summer strength and conditioning drills June 16.
"That was the first time I've ever really seen him without his helmet on," Judson coach Rodney Williams said. Butler will play against his former teammates when the Rockets meet the Thunderbirds in the annual Hammer Bowl.
Wagner moved from 5A to 6A in the UIL's biennial realignment this year, and will play in the same district with Judson for at least the next two seasons.
"He seemed like a quiet kid," Williams said, recalling his first conversation with Butler. "I introduced myself and talked to him, and his mom was there. His dad was on the phone. I basically said hello and 'this is how we do things.'
"I told them I knew they had come over (to register) earlier, but I don't talk to kids that aren't my kids. I like to keep the integrity of the coaching. I didn't mean to be disrespectful. Once he registered at Judson, I guess there was nothing else I could do but talk to him."
Butler is the second San Antonio standout to transfer to Judson this year. He joins former Brandeis quarterback Jordan Battles, who enrolled at Judson in February. Battles, who also will be a senior this season, amassed 3,130 yards and had a hand in 39 touchdowns last year.
Judson reached the 6A Division I state quarterfinals and finished 12-2 last year. The Rockets have won five state championships, plus one by forfeit, and have recorded a state-record 43 consecutive winning seasons since 1977.
Judson already has a blue-chip running back, senior De'Anthony Lewis, who has a scholarship offer from Southern Cal. Lewis rushed for 1,864 yards and 27 TDs last year.
"De'Anthony and I have been friends since middle school," Butler said. "We talk almost every day. When I was at Wagner, we talked all the time. We were rivals in middle school because he went to Judson and I went to Metzger. We've been rivals since then."
Asked how he thinks he'll work Butler into a running game that already features someone as talented as Lewis, Williams said: "Sometimes it's a good problem to have. That's the fun part of coaching.
"Regardless of whether he (Butler) came or not, we've still got to put together the pieces of the puzzle. We've got a piece that's already been established, and now we've got to find a wa to put a new piece in there and see what works."
Williams said Judson's top priority defensively when it played Wagner the past two years was to slow down Butler.
"We did not want to let him get started when we played them," Williams said. "We knew that he's a good player. In our defensive meetings last year, we were like 'We will not let him get started. Somebody else is going to have to beat us.
"We knew we had to stop him. As you can see, a lot of teams didn't stop him. Wagner had a lot of success with him because of the big load he carried."
Judson held Butler to 24 yards on 11 carries in a 52-14 rout of Wagner last year. Butler rushed for 86 carries and one TD on 16 carries in a 35-28 loss to the Rockets in 2018.
Butler ran for 4,377 yards and 62 TDs the past two seasons, helping lead Wagner to the Class 5A Division I state semifinals both years. He averaged 10.4 yards a carry and 156.6 yards a game while running for 2,349 yards and 30 TDs in 15 games last season.
Butler rushed for 2,028 yards and 32 TDS as a sophomore in 2018, averaging 10.2 yards per carry and 135.2 yards a game.
A quick, strong runner who is also a good blocker, Butler averaged 156.6 yards a game last year. He played on the Wagner varsity as a freshman, rushing for 560 yards and six TDs in seven games.
"It was a really hard decision," Butler said of his transfer. "I couldn't have gone back to Wagner, but it would have made it a lot harder for my family and me from where we're living now.
"Coach Bruce was understanding. He wished me the best of luck. All my friends and teammates said they were happy for me. They told me to do what's best for me."
Judson has shut down its strength and conditioning workouts until at least July 13 because of the rise of new COVID-19 cases in Greater San Antonio.