IOWA CITY | His decision was anything but easy, but James Butler ultimately decided this was the time for the final chapter in his college football story to be written.
The graduate transfer running back had been wrestling with the decision for more than a week.
Should he return to action five weeks after suffering a dislocated right elbow and complete his final year of eligibility for Iowa?
Or, should he watch the rest of the season unfold from the sideline, apply for a medical redshirt year and potentially earn an opportunity to be Iowa’s featured back in 2018 after sharing carries this season?
In the end, Butler wanted to help this Hawkeye team.
“It came down to being a team guy and being fully able to play," Butler said. “I couldn’t see my watching the last five games of the season knowing that I could be out there with this team helping them win in any way possible and then choosing not to be part of it."
He was a part of the Hawkeyes’ 17-10 win over Minnesota on Saturday night, taking the field with his right elbow protected by a brace and a wrap.
Butler carried the ball 11 times for 28 yards and also caught one pass for a 19-yard gain, fumbling at the end of the play late in the second quarter.
He took responsibility for the fumble, which occurred when he had the ball in his left hand.
“I should have known when to admit defeat," Butler said. “I thought the play had been blown dead but obviously that wasn’t the case. That’s on me."
Coaches showed faith in Butler, sending him back into the game in the second half.
He rewarded them with eight carries for 27 yards in the final two quarters, providing starter Akrum Wadley with some needed breaks and giving coaches a bigger, more physical option in short-yardage situations.
The numbers were modest, but the contribution was and will be significant moving forward in a rushing attack which has struggled to gain traction.
“He had two choices on this thing and it was in his hands the whole way," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “… I think he wanted to get back and help our football team. He knew we needed some more help. He was really excited about that opportunity."
Butler reached that decision late this week.
After going through contact work in practice and meeting with coaches on multiple occasions over the past week, Butler told coaches on Thursday that he wanted to return to the field.
Ferentz encouraged him to go home and sleep on the decision.
By the time he took the practice field Friday morning, Butler was certain that now was when he was needed to help the Hawkeyes.
“For James to make it back, he was determined. There was some skepticism on our part only because of the brace, but he was convinced he could do it," Ferentz said.
“He looked good in practice (leading up to the Minnesota game), got his legs back underneath him. He's a first class, high energy, mentally-tough guy who gives us a little more leadership because we're lacking that right now up front."
Butler stood in front of the teammates who had welcomed him into the program when he arrived on campus in late July from Nevada on Friday. He told them he planned to help Iowa add to what was then a 4-3 record.
“I had to let them know that I love being here and that I want to help this team win," he said.
Butler held up his end of the deal Saturday, withstanding a couple of hits as opposing defenders tested both Butler and his new brace.
“I didn’t feel any pain," Butler said. “It felt like I was playing football and that felt good again."