Andrean grad Josh Barajas was a can't-miss college prospect destined to play football on Sunday.

Notre Dame was on him like fresh paint and beat out recruiting offers from Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon and many others.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder seemed born to play linebacker as an unanimous four-star prospect, a U.S. Army All-American and the nation’s No. 51 overall prospect on the Scout 300 list.

His senior prep season left little doubt.

Barajas was named to the 2014 Class 3A all-state team by the Associated Press, led Andrean to a 15-1 record, a state runner-up finish with 98 tackles and seven sacks, and was The Times' defensive player of the year.

He was on top of the world, soaring like a satellite.

Here's what Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said on that Feb. 4, 2015 signing date:

"Very active, athletic linebacker. A winner. He was part of four teams that played in the state championship. We’re looking for a guy that can play on the outside, run and give us length and size. Josh can certainly do that.”

But once aboard, the kid's playing career sputtered and was knocked out of orbit. Like hurdles on a track, it's been one setback after another.

Barajas was slowed by a hamstring injury early in his freshman year at ND and never recovered to make a push at playing time. He was red-shirted.

He came into 2016 in great condition, but failed to make an impact on the depth chart and was slowed by illness in spring ball. He played in nine games, primarily on special teams, and had no tackles.

Shortly after, by mutual decision, Barajas and the Irish parted company. He transferred to Illinois State and because he dropped down to the FCS (Division 1-AA) level, became immediately eligible this season.

"It's definitely been a transition," Barajas said. "There's great football here, great competition, so it's all pretty much the same — it's just another college with football."

Nice try at staying positive, but it's not Notre Dame.

"Yeah, it was really tough to leave with just the opportunities, the national stage and the notoriety Notre Dame has," Barajas admitted.

"We left on great terms. I still talk to the linebacker coach (Clark Lea). I'm still best friends with my brothers over there."

Barajas has hit another bump in the road, this one big enough to shake the doors and blow a tire.

Three weeks ago, he suffered a foot injury at practice and underwent Lisfranc surgery.

"It's pretty significant," he said. "I dislocated some bones and tore some tendons. Definitely done for the season."

Barajas credits great friendships with teammates like junior tight end Tylor Petkovich, another 59er grad, for helping him stay upbeat through the long rehab.

"I was gonna stand on the sideline but I don't want to stand on crutches, so I just sit in the stands with my family," he said.

In the six games Barajas played, he had four tackles and a forced fumble.

"I hate (watching). It's not a good time," he said. "It's been a rough road but I'm always ready for the bounce-back to be even stronger."

And yes, his lifelong dream of playing on Sunday still has a strong pulse.

The Redbirds are 6-3 and ranked 20th in the latest FCS Coaches Poll. They've had 15 players drafted by the NFL since 1969, including seven in the fifth round or higher.

"We've had scouts come here from the Seahawks, Cardinals (this season). There's great football here, great players, and they send people to the league all the time," Barajas said.

"(The Missouri Valley) conference is very tough, so there's still a chance to play Sundays and I want to."

Josh Barajas has two more seasons of eligibility to pull it off, if he can just avoid those potholes.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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