Erick Butler, Cody Hinkel and Luke Magness took different paths to the Thomas More Saints, but the former Henry County Wildcat teammates are playing football together again for the first time in four years.
Butler, a sophomore, played his first year at Thomas More after one year at Pikeville College. Butler left Pikeville after his freshman year and sat out a year before transferring to Thomas More.
Butler plays defensive end for the Saints and recorded 7.5 sacks this season. Those sacks resulted in opponents losing 55 yards.He also had 12 tackles for loss on the season for -64 yards. He was the fifth leading tackler on the team with 46.
Butler finds the college experience at Thomas More to his liking.
“It has been great. These last couple of months have been the time of my life,” he said. “I haven’t been a part of a team that is this tight knit before. Through my other college experience, I expected to have some resentment towards me if I came in and did get the starting job.
“This was not the case at all. Once I had the starting job it was the same as the first day of camp. They still poked at me because I was the new guy, but I never felt any kind of negativity at all, which is a testament to the team atmosphere at Thomas More College.”
Hinkel, a 2009 graduate of Henry County High School, concentrated on basketball until his senior year when he decided to give football a try. He planned to walk on at Western Kentucky, but suffered a serious knee injury. After sitting out for two years, he decided to give football another try at Thomas More.
Hinkel is a freshman tight end for the Saints and caught four touchdown passes on the year. Hinkel played in nine of the Saints 10 games and caught six passes for 41 yards. With four touchdown catches out of six overall catches, Hinkel makes the catch when it counts the most.
Hinkel understands the unique opportunity that has come his way in getting to play with former high school teammates. “It really is a privilege to play with guys you played with in high school,” he said. “We are even more close on the field than we are with other teammates because we know each other and know what expectations we hold for each other.”
Magness is the only one of the trio who took the direct path to Thomas More.
Magness is a sophomore quarterback for the Saints. He completed 47 of 86 passes for 476 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception, and ran nine times for 49 yards and two touchdowns this year.
Magness also enjoys the team atmosphere.
“So far my experiences here at Thomas More have been great,” he said. “I have made a lot of new friends and memories. Being in my second year here, I have a real sense of being almost home, especially since all my friends and teammates are like my family. As far as football goes, it has been great too, coming into a program with such history and tradition of winning is always fun.
“But the coaching staff is what I believe makes the program really stand out. They treat everyone like we are family and would do anything they could to help us in any way possible. Game day here is like nothing I have ever experienced before. Although it is a small college, we still have a great fan base. The atmosphere is something you have to see for yourself. It’s definitely one of the best things about playing football at Thomas More.”
Magness feels that having Hinkel and Butler around enhances the experience. “Getting to continue to play football after high school is an awesome experience, but the fact I have not only two former high school teammates, but also two of my best friends is like a dream come true.
“I first started playing football with Butler back in elementary school with the Eastern Colts and we have continued to play together until he graduated and went to Pikeville. Now that he is here at TMC, it is almost like being back in high school. I didn’t get to play with Hinkel until his senior year of high school and my sophomore year, but ever since we became teammates both have been like brothers to me and we have grown closer ever since. Having them both here just makes my college experience that much better.”
Butler also feels that having high school teammates has enhanced the experience. “For us to still be on the same team in college is remarkable,” he said, “It always helps to know someone in those first couple of days of camp, where everyone is getting put through the ringer. To have three people who played high school ball together on the same team in college and contributing on the field is amazing. Just to think that at the beginning of the year, Hinkel and I were both coaching track at Henry County, and now we are both playing college football with Luke is incredible.”
After a 1-3 start the Saints finished the season with 6 wins in a row to go 7-3 on the season.
Saints coach Jim Hilvert has been pleased with the ‘Henry County connection.’
“First and foremost all three of these young men are good people outside of being good football players,” he said, “Luke has played quarterback for us and really stepped up his game the last couple of weeks. He had a great game against Mount Saint Joseph, our rivals.
“Cody always seems to catch touchdown passes. Because he’s been away from the game for two years, he gets better every week.
“For Erick Butler the sky is the limit. He was all over the field last week. He had four sacks. He has the opportunity to be an All-American. He can cause so much damage to opposing offenses.
“All three kids get it done in the classroom and I’m glad to have the opportunity to coach them. They all are unselfish players who don’t mind sharing the credit with others.”