Eureka College football coach Kurt Barth pulls no punches when discussing the good fortune bestowed upon him when wide receiver Dorell Baugh decided to make the small Woodford County campus his college home.
“With his athletic ability the way it is, he’s a significant program-changer for us,” Barth said, after watching Baugh grab 12 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns in Eureka’s season opening win over Knox.
Baugh added eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s 26-9 win over Northwestern (Minn.), running Eureka’s record to 2-0 for the first time since 1998.
Two years ago, Barth would not have been alone in seeing Baugh’s potential to make a difference.
While enjoying a breakout season as an all-state player his junior year of high school in Nashville, Tenn., Baugh caught the eye of recruiters as a prospect with the potential to someday play at the highest levels of college football.
From schools in the SEC on down, Baugh received letters from campuses encouraging him to stay in touch and to provide them with film the following season so they could chart his progress as a senior before making a firm offer.
Problem is, there would be no senior film.
Between his junior and senior year, Baugh transferred from Hillwood High School on Nashville’s west side to Hillsboro, a rival less than 10 minutes away. That’s when a bureaucratic snag in the Tennessee high school transfer rules sidelined Baugh for the year and put a sizable dent in his hopes of collegiate gridiron glory.
There was a struggle involving officials from Hillwood, Hillsboro and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA), the Volunteer State’s equivalent to the IHSA.
“I don’t know how many meetings I went to, to try to see if I was going to be eligible to play,” Baugh said, inferring that it was a lot.
During it all, a “Free Dorell Baugh” video was made by a media class at Baugh’s new school and aired on You Tube. It did nothing to sway the TSSAA and Baugh’s eligibility was denied.
“When he came here he was a model student and we did everything within our power to get him to play, even to the point of appealing, but they did not grant it,” said Dr. Terry Shrader, Hillsboro’s Executive Principal.
Shrader said he was impressed with Baugh’s demeanor. Although not allowed to play in games, Baugh continued to practice with the football team while awaiting word from the TSSAA. He also moved on with his life in other areas.
“He turned adversity into a learning experience,” Shrader said. “He was a leader in our student body, a president of one of our clubs. He did not become discouraged.”
Baugh admits being a bit sullen when he first learned he would be unable to play. When he fell off the recruiting radar, he says his perspective changed.
“At first, it was about me getting into college because of sports and that’s what I was focusing on,” he said. “After a while, I just had to look at the bigger picture and say I might not get in because of football, but I want to be the first in my family to go to college and just being able to go to college was my main goal.”
Baugh credited his strong Christian faith in seeing him through a difficult period.
“When I was at Hillwood, I was a (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) leader,” he said. “At Hillsboro, they weren’t really big on that, but we had prayers and meetings before games. Thursday’s were like an FCA night and I took them to an FCA rally.”
When Barth contacted him about coming to Eureka after most colleges had turned their back on him, Baugh says it was like an answered prayer.
“It went from me praying ‘just get me into college,’ to me having a chance to play football again,” Baugh said.
While Baugh could have been a walk-on anywhere, Eureka gave him an opportunity to play immediately, a big selling point.
“That was a big thing for him, having sat out a year of football and just itching to get back on the field,” Barth said. “In talking with him, I think he’s genuinely thankful for the opportunity to be up here and doesn’t take it for granted.
“At one point, he had football taken away from him and a lot of his hopes and dreams taken from him for that one season.”
Baugh said he was nervous before the opener against Knox, but making plays became second nature after the pregame jitters disappeared.
“I was like a kid eating some ice cream,” he said. “I was happy because I was on the field again.”