The back who has carried the ball more times than anyone in Division I-A history is slow (4.62 is his best 40), small (5'8½", 195 pounds) and looks as if he needs to shave about every homecoming. Basically, Steve (Barney) Bartalo has been unable to avoid a pounding on most of his 1,137 rushes for Colorado State. Indeed, the senior fullback's prowess shouldn't be measured in either carries or yardage, but in how many larger, faster defenders—and almost all of them are one or the other—it has taken to haul down the battering Ram.
Oh, yes, the yards have piled up. Bartalo (he pronounces it bar-TELL-o; his dad, bar-TAL-o) has gained 1,000 yards three times, falling 87 yards shy his sophomore season, when he had the only injury he couldn't play through, a pulled hamstring. He has earned three WAC rushing titles already; with 1,107 yards so far this year, he's in line to become the first back to lead a big-time conference in rushing four times. Since '83, Bartalo has accounted for 92% of the Colorado State ground game (he's also the team's fourth all-time receiver), and when he has carried 25 or more times, the so-so Rams are 17-5. When his career ends in a few weeks, Bartalo is likely to be eighth on the NCAA's alltime yardage list, although he hasn't had a run longer than 39 yards.
"He's the only back in a one-back set, and you know he'll carry, but you're not going to stop him," says Utah coach Jim Fassel. "He has great leg drive. He gets his pads low, has a good shoulder swivel and never goes down on first contact. You look at the film and you think he's stopped, but the whole pile moves for two yards." Utah whipped the Rams 38-28 on Saturday, but Bartalo buffaloed the Utes for 181 yards on 35 carries, passing Amos Lawrence, Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson in the NCAA's career ground crew.
Bartalo wasn't all-much as wishbone quarterback at Doherty High in Colorado Springs, and he walked on at Colorado State in 1982 only to find that Leon Fuller, the new coach, had put in a pro offense. So Bartalo proved himself Ram tough as that objet de hurt, the redshirt, scout-team QB. Says Fuller, "My defensive coaches kept saying, 'We've got to do something about Steve. It's demoralizing. We can't tackle him.' "
Bartalo hit his first hole on Sept. 17, 1983, at Colorado. He wedged out two yards off tackle. "I got to the sideline and started to think about it and practically hyperventilated," recalls Bartalo. The rush that broke Tony Dorsett's career carry mark of 1,074 came at home against San Diego State two weeks ago. It was a draw that also earned two yards. "I guess you could say it was typical," Bartalo says. "Up the middle, hitting people, them hitting me and everyone going down in a big old pile."
How does Bartalo keep running to daylight when he's too small to create it and too slow to catch it? First, he constantly feels he has something to prove. Detractors harp on his low average per carry: 3.9 lifetime, 3.8 this year. Besides, they say, leading the pass-happy WAC in rushing is like winning the female lead in a Rambo flick. Ken Hatfield, then coaching Air Force, actually left Bartalo off his '83 All-WAC team after he had become the first walk-on to gain 1,000 yards as a freshman. Still taped inside Bartalo's locker for motivation's sake is Hatfield's mug, which is speckled brown by tobacco-dipping Rams who have stopped by to spew their disrespect.
Bartalo is a combative sort—against Wyoming this year he received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, one for swearing at a ref, another for hitting one in the head with a shovel pass—who has maniacally honed what talent he has. With his overdeveloped upper legs, he can power clean 315 pounds, second among the Rams. He works out four hours a day, every day, over the summer. Last week he greeted his girlfriend, Angie Knox, one of the leading volleyball spikers in the country, thusly: "I thought you were supposed to be lifting."
Bartalo will have to prove himself again in the pros, probably as a middle-round pick. A likely academic All-America, he plans to pursue a master's in physical therapy if the NFL doesn't work out. "When I came up here, it was me against the world," says Bartalo. "I'm going to try to make it me with the world."
Look out, everybody. The world may be moving forward two yards.