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At home in Arkansas
Decatur’s Barthel finds comfort zone as star QB at Arkansas Tech

By Ronak Patel
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

After years of battling injuries, ex-Decatur High star Cole Barthel is finally healthy.

But that’s not why he’s relieved for the first time in his post-high school sports career — a journey that has seen him play baseball in the Atlanta Braves organization (2001-04) and football one year at Arkansas (2005) before landing on his feet at NCAA Division II Arkansas Tech, a member of the Gulf South Conference.

“I’m happy to be in a place where I’m comfortable at,” said Barthel, who is in his second season at Arkansas Tech and is a junior in terms of eligibility.

Barthel is the starting quarterback for the Wonder Boys, said the campus location, Russellville, Ark., reminds him of home.

“I love small towns. It’s who I am,” said Barthel, a health education major. “Russellville is a lot like Decatur — there are a lot of good, down-to-earth people here.”

Barthel, a 2001 Decatur High graduate, was a two-sport star at the school. He was
The Daily’s Class 4A-6A football player of the year as a senior. He also was the Class 4A-6A co-player of the year in baseball as a junior.

Barthel is off to a good start this year. In Arkansas Tech’s season opening 20-13 win over Northeastern State on Thursday, Barthel threw a game-winning 48-yard touchdown strike to Justin Ray early in the fourth quarter.

He completed 25 of 33 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns.

Arkansas Tech head coach Steve Mullins said Barthel has a “good command of the offense and the respect of his teammates.”

Unfulfilled expectations

After leaving the Braves organization following the 2004 season, Barthel took up college
football at Arkansas. But despite a decent spring performance, Barthel played briefly in only one game. The lack of playing time frustrated him.

“I knew during the Georgia game that year I was leaving,” he said. “It’s nothing against the people at Fayetteville, but it’s wasn’t the right situation for me in terms of the coaches and comfort level.”

The quarterback decided to transfer to a Division II school, where he wouldn’t be required to sit out a year. NCAA rules would’ve forced him to the sidelines for a season if he had gone to another Division I school.

The thought of playing close to home at North Alabama appealed to Barthel, but in the end, playing time won out.

“At UNA, they had a lot of depth and good quarterbacks,” Barthel said. “I thought about playing close to home but I was open to go anywhere and (Arkansas) Tech turned out to the right spot,” Barthel said.

Bumpy start

A familiar foe put a dent to Barthel’s start at Tech. Barthel tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during spring practice of 2006.

Barthel played nine games for Tech in 2006 but missed the last one because of a broken collarbone.

Even so, Barthel managed to pass for 1,290 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading Tech to a 7-3 record, including 5-3 in the Gulf South Conference.

“He handled (injuries and the transfer) much better than I would have. Cole continues to battle and not get down,” Mullins said.

Mullins’ laid-back demenor suits Barthel’s easy-going personality.

“He’s not a rah-rah type of guy but when the times comes for him to make his point, he will,” Barthel said.

Through it all, Barthel appreciates the road that has taken him to Russellville.

“It’s about perseverance,” he said.

“I’ve been through a lot with my family and athletically. I’ve fortunate to have good friends and family that have helped me succeed.

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