With Tropical Storm Nestor bearing down on northern Florida, a prep football game threatened with postponement and his Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame induction set for Monday, flying solo or bowing out crossed Steve Bartalo’s mind.
It’s the next generation’s turn.
The Colorado State great and Doherty alum coaches running backs for Gaither High School in Tampa, Fla., where his sons Tony and Nick play. There was talk of moving the undefeated Cowboys’ game to Monday after the storm passed.
It was a soaking wet affair, but the show went on. Gaither even threw the ball a little in a 26-8 win over Tampa Bay Tech, moving the Cowboys to 8-0 and ensuring Steve Bartalo could be there as planned when he’s enshrined in the town he grew up in.
“It’s home to me,” he said. “I’ve been here 30-something years but I still think of Colorado Springs as my home.”
He attended Penrose Elementary and Sabin Middle School, learning the game on Saturday mornings in Memorial Park.
He called himself an “average football player on an average team” for middling Doherty. He played at quarterback, but was better known for going to the state tournament in wrestling.
The 5-foot-9 Bartalo didn’t let go of his dream of playing professionally.
Air Force was interested, but Bartalo opted to walk on at CSU.
A “fun” stint on the scout team while redshirting turned heads, and soon he was at running back, where he’d played a little at Doherty. The rest is history.
He led the Western Athletic Conference in rushing four consecutive years and earned all-conference honors three times from 1984-86. His 4,813 career rushing yards are still the best in Rams history by nearly 1,200 yards. His career record of 46 rushing touchdowns remains the school record.
Bartalo’s 1,211 career rushing attempts set an NCAA record in 1986.
He played one season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and two seasons in the World League in Europe, and was inducted into the CSU Hall of Fame in 1995.
Twenty-four years later, the Springs followed suit, and Bartalo said the Hall call left him speechless.
“It was the last thing I was thinking,” Bartalo said. “What would he possibly want?”
He’ll enjoy the city for a bit, then it’s time to help Gaither prepare for the playoffs.
The Cowboys have already shown they can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at them.