George Mason University’s senior swimmers and divers are cleaning out their lockers and reminiscing about their Mason athletic careers as their final year comes to a close.
Diver Derrick Butts remembers both his darkest and brightest moments.
Butts’ brightest moment this year outshined those of some of the most talented athletes at Mason.
Butts became the first Mason men’s diver to make it to the NCAA championships, marking his place in Mason’s diving history. In the 3-meter dive, Butts placed 23rd in the preliminaries and ranked 29th overall. He was also named the 2012 CAA Men’s Diver of the Year.
Butts’ road to the NCAA Championships had a few roadblocks. Leading up to his senior year, coach Roland McDonald left to coach at San Diego State University, leaving Butts feeling lost and confused.
“Our coach of two years just up and left. I was pretty crushed at this point,” Butts said. “I thought I would have to start all over. I thought about quitting because I had come so far. I thought about transferring schools.”
Butts had been diving too long to give up so easily. Originally beginning as a swimmer for a community swim team, Butts found more excitement in diving.
“I was on a summer league swim team, and I was not very good,” Butts said. “I lost every race that I had ever been in and one day I happened to look over to the other end of the pool and see some of the divers doing crazy things off the board.”
“At the end of that summer I told my mother that I no longer wanted to swim and that I wanted to take up diving,” Butts said.
Continuing to dive throughout high school, Butts was recruited by Mason as well as the University of Delaware.
Choosing to attend Mason, Butts’ diving career started off in the right direction. During his freshman year, he placed third in the men’s 1-meter dive and fourth in the men’s 3-meter dive at the CAA Championships. He was also named CAA Men’s Diver of the Week during his freshman and sophomore years.
He continually improved in the 1-meter and 3-meter at the CAAs, but he was not meeting his ultimate goal of competing at the NCAAs.
Shaken by the departure of the diving coach he had become accustomed to, Butts was unsure of his future.
After McDonald left, Dennis Ceppa stepped in, taking over as assistant diving coach for Mason.
Ceppa’s history of leading divers to success resultedg in him being named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Diving Coach of the Year five times.
“I was lucky enough to join the program just in time to watch Derrick grow and become a responsible young adult,” Ceppa said.
Butts’ growth as a diver was not immediate. While Butts was already an accomplished diver, Ceppa saw what improvements needed to be made to take him to the next level.
“It was easy to see from the first day I stepped on deck to coach here at Mason that Derrick was an extremely talented athlete,” Ceppa said. “But he was missing refined technique and the discipline to help him remain persistent enough to change.”
This persistence allowed Butts to make it to the NCAAs, but Ceppa’s encouragement is what pushed him to change and improve.
“He always believed in me from the moment he got to the school and motivated me the whole time,” Butts said. “He yelled when I needed to be yelled at and praised me when I needed to be praised.”
Having made the USA diving nationals four times in a row, Butts plans to train hard for the Zone Championships this summer with Ceppa by his side.
“I am proud to call him a friend and wish him nothing but the best as he continues on to the next stage of his life,” Ceppa said.
Where will Butts go from there?
“I am looking to become a juvenile probation officer in the area. And if my career takes off how I want it to, then I will no longer be able to dive full time, but I will definitely be diving in my free time,“ Butts said.