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Fieldcrest graduate and Eureka College head coach Kurth Barth gives instructions to players. After playing reciever at Eureka and finishing second in NCAA history in receiving yards behind Jerry Rice, Barth played arena football before getting into coaching. He started as an assistant at Fieldcrest High School then became offensive coordinator at Eureka College before taking over the program at Eureka High School. He returned to Eureka College as head coach in 2008. Photo courtesy Eureka College
Of course it has the unique intangibles of a college campus — its students and athletics.
However, in its sports, particularity football, Eureka has someone who has been part of the campus as a student, as a NCAA record-setting athlete and now a coach — Fieldcrest alumnus Kurt Barth.
And behind Barth, is his neighborhood.
Barth’s wife of nine years Becca and his children Brayson, 8, and Kamille, 6, make almost every game they can, including trips to Minnesota. If being there isn’t an option, they watch games by live streams.
The love and support doesn’t stop with his household as other family members have been part of Barth’s lifelong gridiron journey, including his father Jerry and mother Elaine, who passed in 2012 and 2009.
“I was thankful the college was very supportive. The best part about me playing at Eureka was my family was at every game,” Barth said. “Now that I’m coaching, my brother (Tom) and my two nephews (Ryan, who will be a senior at Fieldcrest, and Drew, who will be a junior) come over for games.
“This past season, the college put out a plaque in the corner of the endzone where my family always sat in honor of my parents. That was a pretty good thing. A group of guys who went to Eureka made a sign that said ‘Mr. Barth’s Neighborhood’ and that’s kind of what the plaque says.”
But before the 37-year old Barth had a community, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound high school athlete only had a playground.
Fieldcrest has two jerseys retired or on display in its gymnasium.
One is a track jersey to honor state champion runner Brian Peterson and the other is a football jersey with the No. 34 stitched in the center to represent one of the school’s first all-conference athletes.
After two seasons at Minonk-Dana-Rutland, Barth was moved to Fieldcrest in 1992 along with other students from MDR, Toluca and Wenona.
“Everywhere I’ve been, even at the arena football level, I wore (the No. 34),” said Barth.
In that jersey, Barth instantly helped put the new school on the map athletically.
The basketball guard and the kicker, free safety and tailback in football was an all-conference member in both sports his junior and senior seasons to match the honor he had already accomplished at MDR during his sophomore campaign.
With what he was able to do at the high school level, Eureka recruited Barth in 1994 to play football and gave him his number on a maroon and black Red Devils jersey.
Barth didn’t leave his talent in Minonk as he transferred from his three-position role at Fieldcrest to wide receiver and helped a rebuilding team to an 8-3 record his freshman year and a 9-1 record — the school’s second best record — his sophomore year.
“When he finished playing football at Eureka College, he was second in all-time receiving yardage behind Jerry Rice — the Jerry Rice,” said Dan Wieczorek, who recently retired after a 17-year career as Fieldcrest’s athletic director and was a class sponsor and social studies teacher to Barth. “We always thought, ‘Had the Eureka football program had some stability as far as coaches are concerned’ because I believe they had different coaches during his career, if they would have all shared the passing mentality, he would have not only broken Jerry Rice’s record, but I think the word would have been — just buried it.”
Barth’s 4,133 receiving yards at Eureka — which were first in Division III at the time — have slipped to sixth in all NCAA divisions, according to his profile on Eureka’s website.
When the three-time All-American and four-time all-conference receiver bought his graduation cap and gown, he was also second in Division III in career touchdowns (51), career receiving yards per game (110.5) — which is a bit lower than his 133.7 ypg during his sophomore season, which led the division — and touchdowns in a season (18).
Since football is the only career Barth ever pictured for himself, he tested the NFL waters.
“I went to a couple of workouts. I went down to Nashville, Tenn. for a professional combine,” Barth said. “I had a couple of teams contact me, but I never really had any other opportunities beyond the combine. Some discussions happened about going to some private workouts, but nothing ever really panned out.”
After the combine didn’t result in solid leads, Barth took a graduate assistant position at Defiance College in Ohio before landing a spot on an arena football roster.
The Duluth-Superior Lumberjacks of the IFL signed him in 2000. He was an All-Pro and played in the Pro Bowl.
The next season, Barth was the AF2’s Peoria Pirates’ team offensive MVP. However, after two successful seasons, Barth realized his playing days were numbered.
Barth, who graduated from Eurkea with a bachelors degree in physical education and later earned a Masters in Education from American College with teacher’s certification, went back to Minonk to teach junior high science and help his high school football coach Jim DeMay.
“I coached him for four years and he was a team leader on offense and defense,” said DeMay, who coached the Knights from 1992 to 2005. “There was no doubt that he was the person who made the offense and defense go. He was one of the most outstanding players I ever coached.
“He’s very positive oriented and can do whatever he wants. He makes it happen. He’s a very goal-oriented young man, so I’m sure he’s going to be successful in what he does.”
The coaching tips he picked up from DeMay led Barth back to Eureka as an offensive coordinator for Red Devils coach Darrell Couch in 2005.
Two years later, the aspiring coach was ready for another change as Barth and Couch left the college.
Barth didn’t go far as he spent the next four years at Eureka High School as an advanced PE teacher, an assistant track coach and the football coach.
However, he wanted to get back to the college game.
Under new leadership and a different direction, Eureka College hired Barth as the football coach in December 2008.
He took over a losing program with 29 players and turned it into an 8-2 record last season.
“I enjoyed my time as a player,” Barth said. “My main focus now as a coach is that the guys in my program enjoy their experience and give them the same opportunities I had. The one thing I tell my guys during the recruiting process or in practice is that I won’t put them through anything that I wouldn’t have done myself.”
Some of those players in the recruiting class come from Fieldcrest as Barth makes a stop at his alma mater at least once a year to find talent, which has included Matt Stephenson and Jake Bane — who graduated after last season — and Tyler Railey (defensive back) and Austin Stevens (defensive line) — who are sophomores.
With each hometown commitment and Eureka win, the Barth neighborhood will only become bigger.
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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