What a difference a year makes in the life of a high school athlete.

Just ask Lake Highlands senior Jerry Butler, who last year came off the bench to help the Wildcats to the District 11-5A title.

This season it’s “prime-time” for the 6-foot-1-inch guard/forward. He has taken a leadership role on the team since Sea Lonergan and Sheldon Croomes left for college.

It has also only been a year since the quiet 17-year-old left his roots in Natches, Miss., where he grew up with three brothers and two sisters. Butler’s siblings have excelled on the high school hardwood, especially his two oldest brothers, who encourage him in his quest for a college scholarship.

“The (basketball) competition in Mississippi is good, but nothing like here in Texas,” Butler says. “Especially growing up in a small town, it was an adjustment coming to Dallas where the players are bigger and more talented.”

Butler averaged 12 points per game last year. This season, that average should increase because Butler will have increased playing time and has improved all-around.

The senior paid his dues during the offseason with a weightlifting work-out combined with a successful spring in the triple jump.

“Jerry does everything well,” says Wildcats coach Jimmy Roe. “He needed to improve his outside range in particular, especially with him playing shooting guard this year. He’s done that. Being a strong player physically, he is also an excellent driver and rebounder.”

Coach Mike Zoffuto encouraged Butler to come out for football, but after careful consideration, Butler decided his future was on the court hitting threes instead of hitting the blocking sled.

Butler’s quiet leadership will be a needed factor if Lake Highlands hopes to match last year’s 13-1 district record. According to Roe, Butler has gladly accepted his new role as a team leader.

“The other players see how hard Jerry works, and it really rubs off,” Roe says. “He’s also a very coachable player.”

Butler believes that Lake Highlands, although lacking the experience of last year’s squad, has the talent to take district.

“People are saying that we can’t be as good as last year’s team, but I’m not so sure,” Butler says. “It’s a big challenge to better our record from a year ago. We’re actually taller inside, so if we’re hitting from the outside, we’ll be tough.”

After high school, Butler would like to go east for college, play basketball for Kentucky or Duke, and pursue a medical career. He has an A average and is interested in English.

Combine his academic and athletic performances, and the prescription for Lake Highlands success could be as simple as – get the ball to Butler.

The team’s non-district schedule began last month, and the quietly competitive teenager was ready.

“Last year was my most fun ever playing basketball, but there’s always something special about your senior season.”