Passing grade

Tom Batters
Sam Durley

When Eureka College senior quarterback Sam Durley looks back on his football career, he mentions one name frequently.

Kurt Barth.

To say the quarterback and coach “go back a ways” would be an understatement.

Barth coached Durley in high school and then recruited him to come to Eureka College after he took the Red Devils’ head coaching job in 2009.

In 2004, before Durley had ever strapped on shoulder pads, Barth was the one who suggested that Durley try out for football.

“Coach Barth taught me everything I know about football, and he’s been like a second father to me over the years,” said Durley, who enters his senior season at Eureka College with a shot at breaking just about every school passing record. “I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me.”

‘Give it a try...’

Durley grew up in Roanoke and inherited a love of golf and basketball from his father, Pat, a former basketball coach at Roanoke-Benson High School, who is now regional superintendent for Marshall, Putnam and Woodford County schools.

Barth, a family friend who attended the same church as the Durleys, took note of Sam’s athletic ability on the basketball court and golf course (and it didn’t hurt that Durley was already a big, strong kid for his age).

So, Barth asked Durley to try out for football.

Durley agreed, although at the time he didn’t mention that he was scared to death.

“I was intimidated at first,” Durley said. “I didn’t know anything about the game, and most of the kids were from Eureka (Eureka and Roanoke-Benson merged to form the co-op football program), so I didn’t know many of the players. But, coach Barth was great. He was patient with me, and he helped me so much.”

Durley earned the starting quarterback spot in his junior year.

The Hornets went 5-5 and made the playoffs.

Barth’s hunch about Durley proved to be a good one.

“I knew he was a great athlete and a great kid,” Barth said. “I knew he would come in and work hard. Give him a lot of credit. He made himself into a very good football player.”

The Hornets went 3-6 the next season and Barth left to become head coach at Eureka College.

Durley received offers from other colleges, but he said there was never much doubt that he would follow Barth to Eureka.

Durley’s older sister Marisa, a standout volleyball player with the Red Devils, was a sophomore on campus, which helped influence Sam’s decision.

“It was fun to get to watch her play here,” he said. “This is close to home, too. It’s nice to be able to play in front of my family and friends.”

‘Wait your turn...’

Durley sat behind senior quarterback Nick Lindsey for most of his freshman season, but he played sparingly in the final nine games (28-for-65 for 496 yards and five touchdowns).

“Nick was the perfect guy to learn from,” Durley said. “He set a great example. I learned a lot just by watching him. And, he never complained or pouted when I got to come in at the end of the games. He was always supportive of me.”

Barth recruited another quarterback (Jordan Krone), so Durley faced some competition for the top spot his sophomore season.

Durley won the job and passed for 1,994 yards and 12 touchdowns, which earned him second team All-UMAC Conference recognition.

His progression took an enormous leap forward last season when he passed for a UMAC Conference-best 2,869 yards and 26 touchdowns. His final average of 286.9 passing yards per game ranked 12th in Division III.

He threw for a school-record 478 yards and eight touchdowns, against Presentation on Sept. 24. But, he doesn’t care about any of those numbers. Barth doesn’t either.

“It’s all about this season,” Durley said. “We’ve gotten a taste of what it takes to win, and now we are committed to taking the next step as a team. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Red Devils got off to a 4-1 start before losing their last five games of the season.

“Sam can get even better and we look for him to take another step forward this season,” Barth said. “As a passer, he can keep improving, and we look for him to be more of a leader. We want to see him take charge and play with fire and determination every game.”

‘It’s a team game...’

Durley needs just one more touchdown pass to tie Lindsey for the all-time Eureka College record. His 5,359 career passing yards are second to Lindsey (5,544) for most in school history.

He will also likely pass Lindsey for the school record in passing attempts and career completions this season.

But, Durley did not even know about those numbers.

“It’s a team game,” he said. “I just want to go out and work hard and do what I can to help us win ... Individual records are just a reflection on my teammates and coaches — all the people who have helped me a long the way.”

The Red Devils open their season Sept. 1 at Knox. Their home opener is Sept. 22.