Oct. 29, 2011
By John Hirn
Author of Aggies to Rams
Over the course of Colorado State athletic history few athletes have held many NCAA records for long periods of time. Keli McGregor once held the NCAA record for most catches by a tight end, but it only stood for one week. However, after 25 years the Rams' Steve Bartalo still holds the NCAA career record for most rushing attempts at 1,211.
From a redshirt freshman walk-on quarterback in 1982 to an All-American record-setting full back in 1986, Steve Bartalo's career still ranks as one of the greatest of any athlete in school history, holding more records in football than any other player.
Bartalo's finest record is his 4,813 career rushing yards which is 1,197 yards more than Damon Washington in second place. Bartalo also holds the school record for most games rushing over 100 yards, most career touchdowns, most career points scored, most rushing yards by a freshman and junior, most rushing attempts in a season and he is tied for the most 200-yard rushing games with Lawrence McCutcheon and Kevin McDougal.
In the fall of 1982, Bartalo arrived on the CSU campus from Colorado Springs, where he was an option quarterback at Doherty High School. Although not recruited by any major colleges, Bartalo walked on and was redshirted as a quarterback on the scout team in Coach Leon Fuller's first season. He remembered, "We played a lot of wishbone and veer teams and I was beat up regularly in practice. Pete the equipment man used to get me jerseys of the opposing QB and the guys would try to tear it off me in practice."
Bartalo earned his way onto the team after 1982, but he remained as a walk-on paying for his school with student loans. In his freshman season of 1983, Bartalo filled in at running back halfway through the third game of the year against CU and finished the season with 1,113 yards. He stated, "I didn't receive a scholarship until after my first season of playing. It was between the fall and spring semesters after I had led the conference in rushing."
The Los Angeles Times named Bartalo to the Walk-On All-America team, the first major award Bartalo received and still his favorite. Bartalo remembered what an honor it was to make that list of players and said, "This team was made up of athletes that had to prove themselves when others didn't think enough of them to give them scholarships. Walking on was one of the toughest things that I ever did but I learned more about myself through that journey and would not change a thing about it. There were times that I wanted to quit, wanted to transfer, didn't think I was getting a shot but I kept going despite the difficulties."
Steve Bartalo did keep going into the 1984 season and became known throughout the Western Athletic Conference as a bruising, hard-nosed full back who gained yards on short bursts and frequent carries. He won All-WAC honors in 1984, 1985 and 1986, including WAC Offensive Player of the Year in his senior season.
He played at a time when the school's facilities were downright bad and remembered what it was like to work out at the Moby complex in those days. Bartalo said, "When I first came to CSU, we were lifting weights in a room that could not have been bigger than 20 x 20 feet. We had to open the doors to get ventilation in there. I did not know any better and it seemed to work for us. We didn't have much outside of that other than the stairs in Moby and the fields outside the complex. I remember the team running the streets around campus one summer for a conditioning test. It was all that we knew and we used what we had."
Ram fans from Bartalo's playing days remember many of his greatest games and a quarter of a century later, Bartalo fondly remembered the 1986 CU game. He said, "They (CU) had beaten us twice previously during my career and we came out and beat them in Folsom Field by 16 points. Our defense was great that week and our offense was able to move the ball around and keep their offense off the field. The game was a tribute to Fum."
It was the 1986 season when Bartalo was noticed by the nation as an amazing running back, but unfortunately not fully recognized by the national media for his skills. He rushed for 1,419 yards, broke the NCAA record for rushing attempts and finished 7th in career rushing yards on the all-time list of NCAA running backs. He also finished his career with 28 games of 100 yards or more rushing; tied on the all-time NCAA list with Charles White and Herschel Walker and only three games shy of Tony Dorsett and Archie Griffin in the top spot.
Among his many awards on the field, Bartalo was named as an academic All-American as a senior off the field receiving a post-graduate scholarship. Also in 1986, Bartalo was named by UPI and the Associated Press on their second-team All-America, completing a hat-trick of All-American awards.
Bartalo went on to a brief career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing in the 1987 season and then with the San Francisco 49ers on a team that had legendary NFL names like Roger Craig, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Bill Walsh. He then played for the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League for two years with Jack Elway as his head coach.
After his pro career, Bartalo remained in Florida where he received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and taught school for five years. He has been an assistant football coach at a Florida high school for more than 20 years and along with that position has worked for financial investment firm Raymond James and Associates for the past 14 years.
Bartalo and his wife Christy have three children, two boys and one daughter in college. Bartalo looked back at his career as a Ram and said, "Ft Collins holds a special place in my heart and I still consider it home. I have been out of the state for almost 25 years and the people of Ft Collins as well as the people of the University are still special to me."