A year ago at this time, LeRoy Butler was on the road to recovery.
Having seen his 2001 season cut short by a fractured left scapula, Butler rehabbed through the Green Bay Packers' June mini-camp with the belief that he'd be back on the field in 2002. It wasn't until July that the four-time Pro Bowler announced his retirement, having discovered that his shoulder would never heal to the point that it could withstand another NFL hit.
One spring later, Butler still eagerly anticipates the coming football season, but with an acceptance that his new place is on the sidelines.
"My ultimate goal right now is to be an NFL general manager in the future," Butler said from his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., "or a head coach or part-owner of a team. If it could be here in Jacksonville, that would be a lot easier for me.
"I've talked to some of the officials with the Jaguars, in case any coaching or front office positions open up. You never know when something might happen, but I'm a very patient person."
Patient, maybe, but Butler isn't sitting around waiting by the phone. An assistant football coach at Jacksonville's Ribault High School, Butler this fall also hopes to resume his work as an NFL analyst for ESPN.
He's recently entered the literary world, co-authoring his autobiography 'The LeRoy Butler Story: From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' which currently is at press and available for sale on his website, LeRoyButler36.com.
But if all of that helps to keep Butler occupied, not to mention grounded in football, none of it replaces the thrill of playing the game, something he missed dearly in 2002.
"I always felt like I could still play," Butler said of his first season in retirement.
"Obviously with my shoulder, I couldn't. But last year the games that I missed the most were the Monday night games, when everybody was watching. Those games, and the playoffs, were when it was really hard not to be a football player anymore."
No professional athlete wants to be forced out of the game by injury, yet Butler's NFL career was hardly unfortunate.
Over his 12-year career, he played in 181 games, more than any other defensive back in Packers history. He finished just two interceptions shy of becoming the first NFL player to record at least 40 interceptions and 20 sacks over a career.
Still, Butler wishes he could have left the game under his own design.
"Besides intercepting more balls -- I remember all the ones I dropped -- and making more sacks, I wish that when I retired it would have been more than just a press conference," Butler said.
"I just wish I could have played in each stadium one last time and thanked all the head coaches for letting me compete against them. That's the one thing I wish could have happened, but it didn't."
Perhaps the injury-forced retirement stings Butler because his fractured scapula was about the one hardship in his life he wasn't able to conquer.
In his autobiography, Butler details his stirring rise to fame, overcoming not only absolute poverty in the projects of Jacksonville, but also a bone condition that forced him to use a wheelchair for a portion of his youth.
Butler hopes that the book will serve as an inspiration to people young and old. And he thinks some current NFL players might take something away from it as well.
"I think a lot of guys who come from neighborhoods and backgrounds like mine are ashamed to talk about it," Butler said. "Maybe this will make them feel that it's okay to tell people about where they came from."
The book will begin shipping in June.
According to publisher and co-author James J. Keller, early response has been positive with orders from 31 states, and overseas -- most of them for autographed copies, which sell for $39.95.
"The book is something I wanted to do for Packers fans and Florida State fans," Butler said. "They were wonderful to me and it's dedicated to them."
Should Butler use his retirement to rise up through the coaching ranks, he might once again hear their cheers.