As a player at Washington State, Brett Bartolone faced the Colorado Buffaloes once, but not at Folsom Field. He had his eye on Boulder even back then, however.
“I always told myself, ‘Man, I would absolutely love if I somehow landed back here at the University of Colorado,’” he said last week. “And it’s kind of funny how life plays out sometimes.”
In December, new CU head coach Deion Sanders hired Bartolone to coach the Buffaloes’ receivers.
“Being here with coach Prime and getting started here these first few weeks, it’s been unbelievable,” he said. “It’s just truly a blessing. I looked out my window today and I see the mountains and the snow and all that and I’ve got to pinch myself just being here. So it’s been incredible so far.”
Bartolone’s quick rise in coaching might be even more impressive than the view from his office window.
As a true freshman receiver at Washington State in 2012, he started nine games and led the Cougars with 53 catches – including three catches for 40 yards in CU’s 35-34 win in Pullman, Wash. – but played just five games the rest of his career.
Injuries cut his playing career short, but by the time he was a senior, Bartolone was a student assistant at WSU, learning from one of the great offensive minds in college football, the late Mike Leach.
“Most of what I took from him I took as a player and a lot of it was caught other than taught, if that makes sense,” Bartolone said. “Just by the way he interacted, by the way he coached, the simplicity of which he coached.”
After graduating from Washington State, Bartolone embarked on a coaching career that took him to three different Division III schools – Whittier College, St. Lawrence University and Carleton College – in a four-season span, from 2016-2019. He also worked as the offensive coordinator for the Flash Football Club in France in the spring of 2017.
Then, in 2020, he got his first opportunity in the FBS, working as an analyst and assistant quarterbacks coach at Nevada. He spent two seasons learning from Nevada head coach Jay Norvell, now the head coach at Colorado State.
“A lot of what I’ve learned from wide receiver play has come from (Norvell) and that’s his specialty,” Bartolone said. “He hired me at Nevada, he took me under his wing and he was huge for me.”
A year ago, Leach helped Bartolone land the job as Sanders’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Jackson State. The Tigers had one of the most prolific offenses in the FCS, with 37.7 points per game.
“(Leach) has been instrumental in everywhere that I’ve been, and obviously I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him and his relationship with coach Prime,” Bartolone said. “He’s one of the greats and him helping me get that role last year at Jackson State and being in that role, that was huge for me and my career and my development, being at that stage and at that level.”
Sanders trusted Bartolone enough to bring him to Boulder. With CU, Bartolone is in a different role, but one he’s excited about as he mentors the Buffaloes’ receivers.
CU returns junior Montana Lemonious-Craig and sophomore Jordyn Tyson, who was spectacular last year before a knee injury that will keep him out of spring practices. Since Sanders arrived, the Buffs have added the top two receivers from South Florida, Xavier Weaver and Jimmy Horn Jr., as transfers. Jackson State cornerback/receiver Travis Hunter will also play a key role.
The group also includes several young, unproven returners and six incoming freshmen.
“Those are my guys,” Bartolone said. “My job as a coach right now is to hold all those guys accountable to the standard that we’ve set as coaches every single day.”
It’s a standard Bartolone has learned from highly respected coaches during a short, but impressive coaching rise.