Barthel Ready For Long Haul

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas quarterback Cole Barthel had a grand vision for his first snap in Thursday's full-contact scrimmage.

But the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, who played baseball in the Atlanta Braves organization the past three years, had to settle for the sharp reminder of what it felt like to take a jarring hit.

After faking a hand off and rolling to his right during the final portion of the 25-play scrimmage, Barthel ran into unblocked defensive end Desmond Sims and was quickly dropped for a 13-yard loss.

"I haven't seen that in three and a half years," Barthel said afterward with a smile.

Barthel, who gets another chance to impress during this morning's scrimmage in Reynolds Razorback Stadium, understands it's going to be that type of spring.

After all, he is adjusting to life on the gridiron alongside quarterbacks Robert Johnson and Alex Mortensen instead of rubbing elbows with big leaguers like Chipper Jones and J.D. Drew in a spring training clubhouse. The 22-year-old Barthel, who originally signed with Arkansas in 2001, said he's prepared to experience plenty of up-and-down moments after trading in his baseball glove for a football helmet.

More importantly, Arkansas quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke said Barthel knows the transition from professional baseball to college football is going to take time.

"He's like any athlete," Wittke said. "He wants to do well and he wants to do well right now. It's not that he doesn't expect anything less of himself.

"But he also understands that this isn't going to be an overnight project and he's in it for the long haul."

Barthel said the rocky afternoons are worth it because football never strayed from his mind during four seasons in the minors, which included stops in Rome, Ga., Greenville, S.C. and Danville, Va.

Originally, Barthel said he had no intentions of playing professional baseball when he signed with the Razorbacks in 2001. He wanted an opportunity to play both sports in college and Arkansas felt like a good fit.

But he reconsidered when the Braves made him their second round pick in 2001.

"I always thought I could come back to football like I'm doing now," Barthel said. "I knew that either one I chose, at times, if I chose football I'd say, ‘Man, what am I doing here.' If I chose baseball, at times, when you go 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and two errors or you're on a nine-hour bus trip, you're like, ‘Man, why am I not in school?' I was just fortunate enough to have something to fall back on."

Barthel didn't regret the decision despite calling his career quits last summer after 127 career games. Barthel, who batted .247 and drove in 33 runs during his three years with the organization, was ready to enroll at Arkansas.

"It was to the point where, I don't want to say frustrated, I wasn't frustrated," Barthel said. "I knew I had a long road ahead of me. I would have made it probably one day, but, I still miss football too much. I wasn't a guy that was going to stay in the minor leagues eight years, nine years and finally make it."

Barthel said there's a big difference between throwing a football and baseball, but has been working on fundamentals since leaving his minor league team. But he said the most difficult transition has been adjusting to a loaded schedule that includes practice, meetings, study hall and classes.

He was used to the baseball schedule of staying up late, sleeping in and going to the ballpark in the middle of the afternoon. Now, Barthel has a 7:30 a.m. class three days a week and is remembering how to balance football and classroom obligations.

Wittke is confident Barthel's experiences will help him make the transition.

"He's obviously been through a lot," Wittke said. "He's not your normal true freshman. And so, because of that, expectations are a little bit higher. But you have to remember he's in like the (fourth) day of fall camp as a true freshman and he's trying to learn a brand new system. Yes, he's rusty. He's the first one to admit it."

Barthel threw two incomplete passes in the scrimmage and knows he had a shaky performance Thursday. The Hogs expect early struggles in live situations, but Wittke said Barthel is mature, technically sound and further along athletically than expected.

Barthel sits behind Johnson and Mortensen in the race for the starting job next season because of his time away from the game.

But he's learned to be patient and believes the rust will eventually shake off with added work in live situations.

"One day, you're all right, the next day you discover something else that you haven't done in a long time," Barthel said. "I guess it's going to take time and reps. We talked about it before I even got here. I'm jumping into everything and feeling like I'm just coming out of high school. I know that.

"You've got to be patient, especially when you haven't played in a little while."

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