CSU football legend who came with nothing now giving back

Steve Bartalo
Bartalo had one of his most memorable performances in 1986 when he led the Rams to their first win over CU in 30 years.

Steve Bartalo came to CSU in 1982 with very little.

He had no scholarship, and he was lacking the physical gifts – size and speed – that most everyone considering playing big-time college football possesses. But Bartalo – all 5-foot-9 of him – was convinced that he could play, and was willing to run over anyone who doubted him.

“I remember getting a $2,500 student loan – a lot of money back then,” said Bartalo, who was an unrecruited wishbone quarterback in Colorado Springs prior to arriving at CSU. “All I wanted was a chance.”

Given his humble beginnings, you might be surprised to learn that Bartalo was happy to give back to the school that gave him a chance, recently establishing the Bartalo Family Football Scholarship. But his amazing story, going from unknown walk-on to the most prolific running back in school history, reveals what set Bartalo apart.

Bartalo made the CSU roster and quickly became a scout-team legend for a very simple reason: No one could seem to tackle him. He was extremely strong, and his relentless running style made him a nightmare for would-be tacklers.

The legend begins

When he finally got his chance to play as a redshirt freshman in 1983, Bartalo just ran. And ran. And ran. He was CSU’s most reliable offensive weapon, twice recording a mind-boggling 47 carries in a single game.

Bartalo went on to put together a remarkable career. He led the Western Athletic Conference in rushing four consecutive years, and was a three-time all-league pick. He finished his career in 1986 with 4,813 yards – still tops on CSU’s all-time rushing list 31 years later by nearly 1,200 yards.

He just kept going…and going…

While his rushing totals were impressive, it was Bartalo’s durability that set him apart. He carried the ball 1,211 times in four years, and still ranks second in the history of college football behind only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne, who had 1,220 carries while gaining an NCAA-record 7,125 yards.

“I had a great time playing at CSU and made a lot of great memories,” Bartalo said.

Steve Bartalo
Bartalo returned to campus in 2017 to see Canvas Stadium and lead the crowd in the singing of “Sweet Caroline.”

Among the great memories was leading CSU to a 23-7 win over Colorado as a senior in 1986 – the Rams’ first win over the rival Buffs in 30 years – and victories over BYU and Wyoming that same season. He went on to be named a second-team All-American, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played one season in the NFL and two more in Europe as part of the World League.

Bartalo also was a serious student, earning Academic All-American honors as a senior and an NCAA post-graduate scholarship. He went on to earn his MBA and has built a 20-year career at the Tampa, Fla., brokerage firm Raymond James & Associates.

Bartalo has three kids – his daughter, Gioia, is a Denver Broncos cheerleader, while his sons, Nick and Tony, are standout high school football players – and has coached high school football in Tampa for more than two decades. And even though he rarely gets the chance to come back, he still considers CSU home.

Returning the favor

“I gave CSU a lot when I played there, but I also got a lot: a great degree (BS Physical Education ’87) and a chance to play in the NFL,” Bartalo said. “My hope is that this scholarship not only helps future football players graduate but inspires other CSU student-athletes to give back.”

Read related stories on Colorado State University Athletics.