One of the best players in college football is named Jake Butt. His position: tight end.
We'll pause here for your jokes. Just understand that the Michigan senior has heard them all before.
Even Jimmy Fallon and his "Tonight Show" writers have made their wisecracks over his name. Last December, after Butt claimed the Big Ten tight end of the year award, Fallon dedicated a full minute of his opening monologue to some rapid-fire, bottom-shelf humor.
"Other tight ends are mad, but they don't want to make a big stink about it," Fallon deadpanned. "Butt would brag, but he doesn't want to toot his own horn."
— Fallon Tonight (@FallonTonight) December 4, 2015
So go ahead. Be cheeky. You won't be laughing at the Wolverines' All-American. You'll be laughing with him.
This is a guy whose Twitter handle is @JBooty_88. He once changed his avatar to spoof a meme about Kim Kardashian, owner of the world's most famous posterior. Rather than get upset about Fallon's digs, he retweeted them.
Butt is more than just OK with all the fun people have with his surname. He's fully behind it.
"I love it so much," he said. "I think that's one of my greatest traits. It has really allowed me to grow my platform and build my brand."
His sprawling family loves the Butt brand, too. They're easy to spot at any Michigan game. As many as 50 of them tailgate together while wearing versions of Jake's jersey, sporting his perfectly rounded No. 88 along with a fanny pack full of puns.
His father, Rob, goes with either "Head Butt" or "Papa Butt." Other family members wear jerseys such as "I Like Big Butt," "Nice Butt" and "Kick Butt." One of Jake's aunts, Theresa, added an apostrophe to her name to make her jersey read "There's a Butt."
"We taught our kids at an early age to just have fun with it," Rob Butt said. "The whole family, we just enjoy the silliness of it."
The silliness wouldn't amount to much if Butt were merely an average player, one only Sir Mix-A-Lot could love. The reverse, however, is true. Butt is arguably the best tight end in America, a key component of Michigan's College Football Playoff hopes and a future high NFL draft pick.
And it's all because he works his tail off.
Butt keeps turning heads at Michigan
Jake Butt always had great athletic genes in his back pocket. His grandfather, Bob Lally, never lost a game as an offensive lineman in high school or on Frank Leahy's Notre Dame teams in the 1940s. His dad played rugby at Cincinnati. Jake's first word: "Ball."
"I wish it had been 'Mom' or 'Dad,'" Rob Butt said.
Jake starred in youth soccer until his dad, seeing that Jake was sprouting toward his current 6-foot-6 frame, nudged him toward football in the sixth grade. Reluctant at first to give up his dreams of being an MLS midfielder, Butt nonetheless gave football everything he had. When he found out that kids had to be under 125 pounds to touch the ball, he spent his summer vacation running and cutting weight so he could play tight end.
Soccer had helped him develop great footwork. His size made him a prototype tight end. Work ethic did the rest.
Tom Phillips has been coaching high school football for nearly 30 years. In all that time, he said, the two most competitive players he has ever had, in practice and in games, are Butt and D.J. Durkin, the former Michigan defensive coordinator and current Maryland head coach.
"Jake was out there to win everything," said Phillips, the head coach at Pickerington North High School in Ohio. "He would easily lose 15 pounds in practices because of sweat. He was a motor, and he always wanted to be the best."
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh praises Butt as "one of the most gung-ho players I've ever been around."
"He can sit through a two-and-a-half hour, three-hour meeting and be on the edge of his seat," Harbaugh said last month. "[He'll] walk out of that meeting with a bounce in his step and put his football gear on, the hair on the back of his neck is standing up. Whether he's going out to hit his sled or rattle somebody's fillings, he's just as excited about doing that as he is running a post route or corner route."
Here's an example of Butt's inner drive. In February 2014, he tore the ACL in his right knee. He promised anyone who would listen that he would be back for the Notre Dame game in Week 2 of that season. Barely six months after his surgery, he made good on that pledge.
(Butt had some extra motivation. His grandfather, who died in 2008, had wanted to have his cremated ashes spread on the Notre Dame Stadium field. The school declines such requests. Jake brought a plastic baggie with some of Bob Lally's remains to South Bend and placed them on the 50-yard line before the game. True to form, the Fighting Irish won again with Lally on the field, crushing the Wolverines 31-0.)
Butt's intensity and skill set found their equal when the hard-charging Harbaugh took over the Wolverines — "You talk about a perfect personality match," Phillips said. Harbaugh has long been known for his creative use of tight ends, and Butt's production immediately and predictably soared under his new coach. After catching 41 passes combined in his first two seasons, Butt had 51 receptions for 654 yards and three scores as a junior.
"I'm really reaping the benefits of having him as a coach," Butt said. "The main thing he does is push me as a player, not just to catch passes but to be a complete tight end."
Fans like Jake Butt and they cannot lie
That Butt even ended up at Michigan is mildly surprising. His family was full of diehard Ohio State fans. Rob Butt even threatened to wear his Buckeyes gear at the Big House during Jake's recruiting visit during the night game versus Notre Dame in 2011.
That epic victory over the Irish — U-M scored with 2 seconds left to win 35-31 in the first prime-time game at Michigan Stadium — and the atmosphere made a huge impression on Butt, who found himself rooting for the Wolverines against Ohio State later that season. Michigan won, and the Buckeyes never even offered Butt a scholarship.
"Even if Ohio State would have come around with an offer," Rob Butt says now, "he wouldn't have changed his mind."
Now it's hard to picture him anywhere else, and Butt has developed into something akin to a folk hero in Ann Arbor. Fans make unofficial T-shirts honoring him. At a game last year, Rob Butt sat behind some students who grabbed the rump of those to either side of them whenever Jake caught a pass.
They like Jake Butt, and they cannot lie.
Jake hasn't always found mirth in being the Butt of jokes. In the third grade, he fought another kid who'd poked fun at him.
"Back in my elementary school days," he said, "any little thing hurt to hear."
In the first month of his freshman season at Michigan, he couldn't believe how many people asked him on Twitter if he realized the connection between his name and his position. As if he'd never thought about it. Which led to this classic tweet:
Yes I'm a tight end. Yes my last name is butt. Hhahaha
— jake butt (@JBooty_88) September 22, 2013
That tweet caused a social media splash and helped Butt see the power of laughing at himself. Luckily, his supersized family — his father has seven siblings, and his mother was one of 16 kids — were blessed with wry self-awareness. Rob Butt, who after all lived through the same experiences with that last name well before Jake, offered his son this optimistic outlook: "At least it's a name you don't forget. It can work in your favor, if you're not embarrassed by it."
Jake is most certainly in on the joke these days.
"I have a great last name," he said. "I'm proud of it. It's pretty marketable. That last name stands out a little bit."
So does Jake Butt the football player. No ifs, ands or … well, you know.