EUREKA COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Tom Batters
Kurt Barth

In the fall of 1995, Kurt Barth caught a touchdown pass in the back of the Eureka College end zone and his momentum carried him up the hill to where his grandmother sat among the faithful fans.

He gave her a quick hug and trotted back onto the field.

Barth’s grandmother passed away that winter. It was the last time she saw him play football.

“Where else could I have had a moment like that? It’s one of the many special memories from my playing career here,” said Barth, a member of the Eureka College Athletic Hall of Fame who enters his second season as the Red Devils head football coach. “It was great that I got the chance to play college football so close to home (Minonk), with my family in attendance. I could not have had a better experience here.”

Barth was a three-time NCAA Division III All-American from 1995-97 at Eureka. He had 256 career receptions and scored 51 touchdowns. His 4,311 career receiving yards currently rank sixth in NCAA history. He once caught 20 passes in one game, which is tied for third most in NCAA history.

He played two years of professional football in the Indoor Football League and the af2 (with the Peoria Pirates).

“I’ll never forget the first pass I caught (in the arena league),” he said, laughing. “I turned to run, and the wall was right there waiting for me. I couldn’t make a move. I just ran right into the wall.”

Barth, sitting in his cramped office at the Reagan Center, humbly downplays his playing career.

He said he is proud of what he accomplished, and indebted to the coaches (especially Warner McCollom), but he would rather talk about the present and future of the football program he cherishes so deeply.

“There is a great tradition here. I’m fortunate to be a part of that,” he said. “I want to get us back to the top. I’m going to work hard every day to make sure that happens.”

Turning a struggling football team into a winner is nothing new for Barth. In 2007, he led Eureka High School to the playoffs after the Hornets had suffered through several losing seasons.

“We made the playoffs one out of four years when I was there. Some people might look at that as a failure, but, considering where the program had been, I’m very proud of what we accomplished. I had a great group of kids there. They fought for everything they had, and they made me proud.”

Can he work the same magic at the college level, where the stakes are higher and the competition is much more intense?

Barth is not being overconfident or cocky when he says, “Yes. We can and we will win here.”

“I like this team, a lot,” he said. “We have a strong group of returning players, and we brought in an excellent recruiting class. Week in and week out, I expect us to compete for a win.”

Barth played with Mike Simpson and John Furmaniak, whom he calls “two of the best quarterbacks to play here.” He said sophomore Sam Durley and freshman Jordan Krone, the two quarterbacks competing for a starting job this year, can also end up in that category before their careers are finished.

In 2009, Durley saw limited action under Nick Lindsey, who was No. 9 in the nation in passing.

“He (Durley) has one of the best arms I’ve ever seen. The question will be: Can he develop as a leader. When you’re talking about a 19-year-old, it’s hard to predict that until you get them into some more games,” Barth said. “I’m looking for him to develop his ability to run, too.”

Barth remembers Krone from his days at Fieldcrest, and one word comes to mind: “Competitive.”

“I had in him in junior high track when I worked at Fieldcrest,” Barth said. “Even back the, I remember how focused he was. He was very competitive, and he gave a great effort all the time. He’s still like that. He’s a great athlete who can run and throw the ball very well.”

Barth said he has not named a starter yet. It’s possible that both quarterbacks could share the job.

“We’re set up for a nice competition. We’ll see how it plays out,” he said.

Eureka native Wes Schmidgall, one of the top wide receivers in all of Division III last year, returns.

“Wes was snubbed for some All-American votes last year,” Barth said. “I thought he deserved to be an All-American. He had a great year.” Schmidgall led the UMAC Conference with 1,247 receiving yards and 16 touchdown catches. His average of 124.7 receiving yards per game was the fifth-highest total in all of Division III.

Senior tight ends Dillon Reed and Alex Hess will also return.

On the defensive side of the ball, Barth brought in his former Red Devil teammate Deric Linder to install a quicker, more aggressive scheme. Linder previously served as defensive coordinator at Metamora Township High School.

“I am thrilled to have Deric here,” Barth said. “He worked with one of the best coaches (Pat Ryan) in the state. He is a great teacher, and we like his aggressive style of defense. We’ll play a lot more man-to-man coverage, which Metamora has done successfully over the years.”

Barth said, because he brought in such a large recruiting class, every position will be up for grabs.

“If you don’t compete hard every day in practice, then you could lose your job,” he said. “I want to see these guys leave it all out on the field every day. If we do that, then the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”

The Red Devils open the season Sept. 4 at home against Benedictine.