It’s often said that if you’re a good enough high school player the recruiters will find you. But it would have taken a GPS and maybe a good pair of hiking boots before college recruits stumbled upon Beau Bachtelle, who defied steep odds born of a geographic disconnect to find his way to the University at Buffalo.
The town of Tuolumne, Calif., is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, about a 90-minute drive from Modesto. The population checks in at fewer than 2,000 people. Most households are linked to the logging industry. Bachtelle was one of 68 in his graduating class at Summerville High.
He gave little thought to playing football after high school because that’s not the Tuolumne way. He’d take some class at Modesto Junior College, then he’d find a job and spend his off time fishing and hiking the foothills. There’s a mesmerizing tranquility about the area. That, and it’s home.
“Where I’m from there’s really no recruiting out of the high schools,” he said. “It’s just really small. Nobody really knows where it is.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know that I was going to play football out of high school. There’s really no recruiting. None of the kids from my school go anywhere. I just thought I’d go to the community college there in town and get a job and do whatever.”
Bachtelle’s life path changed when he played in the prestigious Lions Club all-star game in Northern California. The honor got him to thinking his high school coaches were right in suggesting he continue with football at Modesto CC. It wasn’t a hard sell.
Bachtelle had been playing since age 10, and he has come to fill out a 6-foot-5, 270-pound lumberjack’s frame. “All the kids I grew up with played from Pop Warner when we were in fourth grade all the way until seniors in high school,” he said. “Played against the same kids on the other teams, all the other small towns around the area.”
Success at Modesto got Bachtelle to thinking maybe he could play at a higher level. He made a highlight tape. Scott Pilkey, UB football’s high school relations coordinator, saw it.
“He hit me up and he was like, ‘You should come out to Buffalo.’ And I was like, ‘Buffalo? I don’t even know where Buffalo is,’ ” Bachtelle said. “Started looking into it and I was like, ‘They want me to come out on a visit. Might as well check it out.’
“It was a lot different because it’s a lot colder but for some reason it just really felt like home to me, the people, the coaches, the kids on the team. I just really enjoyed it and committed as soon as I got here.”
Bachtelle, a senior, spent last season as the backup to defensive end Steven Means. With Means gone to the NFL, Bachtelle inherited the position, a dizzying achievement given his long, uncertain journey following high school. He credits Means and Colby Way, the returning starter at right defensive end, with helping him acclimate to the Division I game.
“I love it. I’ve been working so hard just to try to get here,” Bachtelle said. “I may have the starting spot but I’m going to keep working until I’m better and better and better at what I do.”
Bachtelle managed 11 tackles last season while appearing piecemeal in all 12 games. He’s been in on seven stops this year with one tackle for a loss. “The bigger guys on the field can move a lot better than I ever experienced before so that’s one thing I had to get used to,” he said.
A good part of his spare time is spent jamming on the guitar. Bachtelle picked up the basics from his uncle, Mark Duffield, when he was 13 years old and has taken off with it from there (a sample of his talent is available on the Campus Watch blog).
The guitar certainly jibes with the stereotype of someone who grew up in the foothills of the Sierras, even if Bachtelle’s hard-rock taste seems to depart from the standard image. But the folks in Tuolumne had best get used to it.
“I’m planning after the season once summertime rolls around a backpacking trip back out in the Sierras, which is going to be something real cool,” Bachtelle said. “Just a week out there, which will be really fun, just fishing and walking around the mountains.”
He’ll be back in his element. Back where tranquility reigns. Back where high school football’s played in its simplest form, before family and friends with no thoughts of where it might lead.