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Cole Barthel, a former Decatur High star athlete, has played minor league baseball and quarterback for the Arkansas Razorbacks. He is enrolled at Division II Arkansas Tech this fall.
AP File Photo by April Brown
Cole Barthel, a former Decatur High star athlete, has played minor league baseball and quarterback for the Arkansas Razorbacks. He is enrolled at Division II Arkansas Tech this fall.

Barthel battles injuries
Former Decatur star
rehabbing at Arkansas Tech

By Brooke Milam
DAILY Sports Writer 340-2460

Former Decatur High standout Cole Barthel is getting a fresh start at a new school, but he's having to overcome an old problem — an injury keeping him off the field.

A former minor league baseball player and University of Arkansas quarterback, Barthel, 23, is in his first year at NCAA Division II Arkansas Tech, but a knee injury during spring training means he is having to spend time rehabilitating from surgery instead of improving his football skills.

Barthel tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the third workout of spring practice and sat out the rest of the drills in favor of surgery.

"Right now, I've had a couple of bumps in the road — I just want to try to stay healthy now and see what happens," said Barthel, who also struggled with injuries during his four years as a professional baseball player.

Two and a half months after surgery, Barthel is optimistic about his chances for playing time this fall.

"You never know, but the doctors and the therapists think it's looking good now," he said. "I'm throwing and running now. I'm at a point now in my rehab that I'm almost back to doing everything."

Barthel is a 2001 Decatur graduate.

He was THE DAILY's Class 4A-6A football player of the year as a senior and Class 4A-6A baseball co-player of the year as a junior.

He signed out of high school with the Atlanta Braves, who chose him in the second round of the June 2001 baseball draft.

A string of injuries — stress fractures in two vertebrae (2003) and strained elbow (2004) — slowed his progress in the organization's minor league system. In 127 games in four seasons in the Braves' system, he batted .247.

He left the Braves for the University of Arkansas in time for spring training in 2005. But after a season in which he didn't get to play enough to attempt a pass, he transferred to Arkansas Tech.

He started classes Jan. 17 and will be able to play immediately because he's going from Division I-A to Division II. He will have three years of eligibility left.

He hasn't forgotten his Decatur roots and turned to a friend from home for support with his knee injury last spring.

Remembering a similar injury to former high school teammate Rusty McIntyre, Barthel said that talking with his friend about the recovery process has helped. McIntyre, who played baseball at UAB, is completing his degree at Athens State and is doing an internship at Encore Rehabilitation.

"I've talked to him and some others, and it has really been helpful," Barthel said. "Just talking to them about when they started running on it and stuff like that."

Arkansas Tech is in
Russellville, Ark., a seven-hour ride from Decatur. At Tech, he'll switch from the No. 13 jersey he wore at Arkansas to No. 4, which he wore at Decatur.

Playing for the Wonder Boys in the Gulf South Conference will pit Barthel against some teams close to home, like North Alabama, which Tech will visit Sept. 30. Bringing the experience of a season of SEC football, Barthel said what he's seen of the Arkansas Tech program so far stacks up.

"It's tough (at Arkansas Tech)," Barthel said. "Our off-season conditioning was a lot like it was at Arkansas last year."

Arkansas Tech went 7-3 last season and 9-1 in 2004. Barthel said he likes his new team's chances.

"The opportunity to play was good at Arkansas Tech," Barthel said. "Mostly I just want to do anything I can for the team. I'd love to make playoffs and just see what happens."

Even though he's a sophomore on the roster, Barthel has had some unique experiences for his age and said he's got a lot of memories to go with it. His goal now is to make some more as a player for Arkansas Tech.

"I'm pleased. I'm thankful. I've been blessed to have done all things I've done and be the places I've been," he said.

Even though it has been more than five years since he graduated from Decatur, he said his friends in the River City would recognize him easily.

"I guess I haven't changed any, as far as playing-wise or acting-wise," Barthel said. "I've been a lot of places, but I guess you'd say I'm pretty much still the same."

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