BOCA RATON · He is not even supposed to be here. No way. Especially not
at No. 1 on the depth chart. Come on. Kris Bartels?
Yeah, OK, he has a big heart, works hard. So what? That fits a lot of kids.
But this is Division I college football, and no place for an undersized kid
who was a backup in high school.
So he was
special teams captain at Chaminade-Madonna.
He was still on the bench the rest of the game. Sure, he was behind Jon Beason, now a linebacker at Miami, but he was still a backup.
So what made him think he could play at Florida Atlantic? He would have to
walk on; nobody but a couple of out-of-state Division II and III schools even
bothered to give him a look.
Too small, at 5 feet 8, 165 pounds coming out of high school. Heart doesn't
add inches or pounds. Sorry, kid.
"I called FAU and begged them to let him walk on," said Chaminade-Madonna coach Mark Guandolo.
"Hardest-working kid I had. Did whatever he could for his team."
Begging worked. That first year, 2003, nothing special. Redshirt,
scout squad. Never even sniffed the travel squad. Just another hard-working
"When he got here he wasn't anything outstanding," coach Howard Schnellenberger said.
Spring of 2004, things change a bit. He's a little taller, a little thicker, a lot stronger. Gets a little attention.
"He is a kid that doesn't want to believe he doesn't belong," said
FAU defensive backs coach Kirk Hoza. "He is
not without ability."
By the middle of the 2004 season, he is on special teams and third string at
Spring of 2005. Even bigger, now 5-10, thicker, about 190, faster. Still at
corner, but up to second string. Then starting safety Taheem
Acevedo tears up his ankle and will be out all of 2005. With three practices
left, Bartels is moved to safety.
Early August. Projected starting safety Christian Amaya
learns he won't get his sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and whose
name is under Amaya's on the depth chart?
Introducing the new No. 1 strong safety, redshirt
sophomore Kris Bartels.
Joke, right? The high school backup will be on the field when FAU opens at Kansas Sept. 3?
"Just a great, great story of a kid who persevered," Guandolo said.
"It's happening real fast. I went from second-string corner in spring to
safety, ended up practically starting right now. It just happened real
fast," said Bartels, who lives with his uncle in Boca Raton to cut costs, because he doesn't
have a scholarship. Yet.
Schnellenberger has a fondness for walk-ons,
especially at FAU, where they have helped build the program from scratch by
filling out the roster, and some have developed into key players.
"There are two kinds. The ones that have no clue, and those that are
willing to work harder than scholarship athletes, and those are the ones that
become very important to the team," Schnellenberger
The coach tells his walk-ons that those who rise up to become No. 1 or 2 on
the depth chart will get the next available scholarship. Bartels is next in
"That is what one of my goals is, to earn a scholarship. To prove to
coaches I do deserve one. That's why I work hard every practice," said
Bartels, who is thick, a square block of muscle above the waist.
"On paper he shouldn't be the starter. But the other kids will be
hard-pressed to uproot him before that opener," Hoza
"He's the kind of kid you like to see become successful since he is just
a wonderful kid. He has had to learn how to be a Division I football player,
and I think he will be a fine one," Schnellenberger
Bartels still has two more seasons. He intends to hang onto the starting job,
and if he can't do that, he'll do whatever he needs to do to help the team.
"I want to keep playing. Maybe the NFL. Who knows?" Bartels, whose
family lives in Pembroke Pines,
said with a smile.
He knows he will be told he is too small. "Yeah, but when they see me
hit somebody, and my work on the field and off the field, they will understand,"