Bubba Bartlett came in with a national championship and he’d like to go out with a national championship.
As a backup tight end, the Lakeland High football standout caught Carroll College’s lone completion in the 2007 NAIA national championship game as a true freshman. Since then, he’s caught a boatload of passes, including a single-season record 83 last year.
Bartlett and his second-ranked Carroll College Saints (13-0) take on defending champion Sioux Falls of South Dakota (13-0) in the NAIA national championship game in Rome, Ga., on Saturday.
He will graduate in May with a major in community health sciences and a minor in business. He hopes it leads to a career in hospital administration.
That may be a venture that will have to wait, though. The 6-foot-1, 246-pound Bartlett has been watched frequently this fall by more than 25 NFL scouts.
The visits have been so frequent that Bartlett got to a point where he asked his coaches not to be told when scouts were at games or practices. He didn’t want it to be a distraction.
“If the door opens in the future, it’s something I definitely would pursue,” Bartlett said. “It’s obviously not where my heart is right now. My heart is with my final game at Carroll.”
He went to the Helena school not knowing what to expect.
“I thought the meaningful relationships, the friendships for life, were things you only had from high school,” Bartlett said. “It’s definitely here. It’s one of the more important things that I got from college.”
Bartlett will play in his third national title game.
“In the college ranks, sometimes there are teams that have 11 individuals,” he said. “We have 11 brothers willing to play for each other. That might sound kind of cheesy. But it’s pretty true here.”
For most of this decade, Carroll was considered the NAIA power, having won four straight championships (2002-05). This is the eighth time the Saints have played for the title in the past nine years.
Sioux Falls, which moves up to Division II next year, has won three straight titles and is playing in the final for a fifth consecutive season. USF has won 42 straight games to tie an NAIA record with Texas A&I.
The Saints face a tall task if they want to capture their sixth national title.
“They’re a great team,” Bartlett said. “They play flawless football. They don’t make mistakes. We’ve got our hands full.”
Bartlett wants to play his best in his final game.
“It’s time to rise and definitely play like a senior,” he said.
He’s one of Carroll’s four captains this season.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Bartlett said. “It’s something I’ll remember throughout my life. I’m not the most vocal leader on the team. I try to lead through example. I have my role and the other captains have their roles.”
Carroll coach Mike Van Diest raves about Bartlett.
“I wish we had him for a fifth year,” Van Diest said. “When you get guys like Bubba as freshmen, you want to redshirt them. But we couldn’t do that with Bubba. We needed him right away.”
Van Diest can see Bartlett in the NFL some day.
“His foot is in the door. Now we’ll see what happens in the winter months and through the testing he’ll go through for (NFL teams). If he were 6-4 he’d be a tight end, but he’s 6-1 so he’ll probably be an H back or a fullback. He’s got great hands, he’s physical and a terrific blocker.”
For now, Bartlett isn’t thinking about anything but his final collegiate game.
“It’s hard to say what I’ll take the most from my college experience,” he said. “Obviously, you have all of those memories inside and outside of football. The friendships I’ve made I’ll value a lot.”