When the coronavirus pandemic closed public gyms, canceled pro days and limited resources for every player in this week’s NFL draft, Ben Bartch’s college house in St. Joseph, Minn. — and the charms associated — became his base for proving he is worthy of being the first Division III player drafted in five years.
The state of the basement, where the former St. John’s tackle and his college teammates collected bands, kettlebells, barbells and other free weights, should answer whether he loves football enough for an NFL team.
“It’s a little rough,” Bartch said last week. “You’re deadlifting on concrete. There’s broken glass in the corner. There’s dust everywhere and you are coughing. Sometimes you take it all out to the parking lot by the house and just work out in the parking lot. Cars, like, honk at you.”
To say he’s resourceful undersells Bartch, a 6-6, 309-pounder who weighed about 75 pounds less just a couple of years ago when he moved from tight end. His two-year ascension since captured the attention of NFL scouts. It started nearly every morning with a concoction that makes his college basement sound like a breath of fresh air.
To add weight, Bartch loaded a blender — five days per week — with seven scrambled eggs, “a big tub” of cottage cheese, quick grits, peanut butter, a banana and Gatorade.
“Throw it all in and plug my nose,” Bartch said. “I’d gag sometimes, but that’s what you have to do.”
Help from the pros
Bartch’s reward could be getting drafted as early as Friday’s second round, according to some NFL analysts, after impressing in January at the Senior Bowl. Instead of flying around the country for pre-draft visits, he has been home this month meeting with NFL teams via videoconferencing on Zoom and FaceTime.
To prepare for the Xs-and-Os questions, a hot topic from teams as he tries to make the leap from Division III to the NFL, Bartch trained with Zane Beadles, who played nine years in the NFL as an offensive tackle. Through his agency, Rep1 Sports, Beadle trained daily with Bartch this winter in Irvine, Calif., where they focused on technique and film study. Bartch learned why an offense might deploy varying formations or why a defender might have the right hand down instead of the left hand before the snap.
“We went as deep as we could to expose him to other ways to think,” Beadles said, “and how he can give himself an edge and hopefully do this for a long time. That’s the goal in all this.”
Plenty of interest
Bartch said he’s met with over half of the NFL teams, including the Vikings, with many asking him to diagram plays on a whiteboard-style Zoom feature. But he also brings a pen and paper to virtual meetings.
“I’ve also had to draw stuff on my own notebook and show it on the screen,” Bartch said. “Sometimes their screen might freeze.”
A narrowed draft scope for NFL teams, without data points like pro days, might help Bartch’s draft stock because he performed well in Senior Bowl practices (a knee injury prevented him from playing in the all-star game). After being held out of combine testing in February, Bartch said his knee healed without surgery.
“You’ll see a higher number of guys who were at the Senior Bowl get drafted this year,” former NFL General Manager Mark Dominik said on a conference call last week. “[Teams] will feel so much more confident about everything they need to know about that player.”
However the draft or 2020 NFL season unfolds, Bartch said he has the attitude to piece any puzzle together.
“No disrespect to anyone else,” Bartch said, “but I did gain a lot of lessons from going to a small school and having to kind of figure a lot of this stuff out on my own. But I wasn’t alone. I did have a lot of really good resources at St. John’s.”