The sun set and another hot Kentucky summer day went in the books.
The Barajas family heads into the house completing the daily routine of throwing the football around while talking about the latest happenings in their lives.
This is where Josh Barajas, one of the top linebackers in the country in the class-of-2015, fell in love with the game.
Barajas would catch passes from his left-handed sister Faith, who is a year older and has a hell of an arm and can spin it like a boy, or run routes for and against his father, who he shares the same name with. Little brother Caleb, who is now 10 and aspires to do everything better than his older brother literally grew up watching the other three in the backyard or at the park.
“Just being a single parent I’d come home from work and wanted to make sure they did something,” Barajas Sr. said. The kids mother lives in New York and visits a few times a year. “All of us, we’d throw the football till the sun went down and then we’d go inside and I’d feed them, help them get their homework done and then head to bed.”
Organized sports were not something the elder Barajas was able to do as a young Hispanic male growing up on the rough streets of East Chicago, Ind. Seeing his three children absolutely excel in athletics has him beaming with pride.
Married at 21, every decision Barajas has made has been based around putting his kids in the best cities and best school districts. They lived in Dallas and Houston, before spending years in Fort Thomas, Ky., where the younger Barajas played on Merril Hoge’s youth team. Then it was back to Northwest Indiana, where the younger Josh Barajas attended football powerhouse Mount Carmel for two years in Chicago before transferring and settling in at Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean for his junior year.
“I don’t want my kids to miss out on anything,” the elder Barajas said. “I felt robbed of what I could’ve done. I was very athletic but didn’t get to do anything. My kids are athletic. My daughter is a phenomenal softball player hoping for a scholarship. Josh is well on his way. My baby is more phenomenal. He plays everything. I’m blessed.”
Michigan, Illinois and Purdue have already offered the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Barajas, who led Andrean to a 15-0 season and state championship during the fall. Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Ohio State are among the programs showing personal interest.
There is nothing better for the younger Barajas than sharing all the good news with his father and family.
“It’s honestly the best feeling ever,” Barajas said. “Already he doesn’t have to pay any more money. College is already paid for and I can do something to make his life easier. I know it wasn’t easy for him. Nothing was ever easy when he was growing up. His parents, my grandparents struggled a lot. He raised me and my brother and sister, always put us in the best education and best places to be successful.
“It really means a lot to me to share these offers with him, and it makes me work even harder so I don’t let him down. He busts his butt for me and I just can't let him down. I know I have to work that much harder to make him proud.”
Family is what helped the elder Barajas get out of East Chicago and live a good life. He comes from a family of nine, and always had them to keep him out of trouble.
“Even though I was on the streets and knew a lot of people, I was always more of a comic book guy,” Barajas Sr. said. “I liked to read. I was more into writing. What I wanted growing up was to be a police officer and I knew being a gang member wasn’t going to get me there. I didn’t do drugs. I’m not a big drinker now. I was just a little different. I had my family and three friends, and my three friends actually grew up to be police officers now.”
Barajas didn’t become a police officer. He became a contractor for Home Depot and now works for a steel company. Days off from work are now geared towards college visits for his children and watching their games.
Friday nights this fall were especially awesome. Barajas racked up 92 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles, while quickly making new friends in his new community.
“He’s a very appreciative young man for what people do for him, and he’s very well-liked by his teachers,” Andrean head coach Phil Mason said. “He’s a unique kid and and a great kid. Kids like that are kids that really succeed. He’s become a leader, and he’s a vocal leader in practice and a vocal leader in the weight room. Through his play during the season he gained unbelievable respect from his teammates.”
Workouts during the recent college winter evaluation period would have several Big Ten coaches at Andrean watching Barajas, who was such a versatile player during the fall that he even played some cornerback when needed.
“When the ball is snapped, I would compare to him to a cougar,” Mason said. “He likes to be out in space. He likes to spy. When he sees his time he just unleashes. He’s a tremendous kid at using his hands and his leverage and his speed, and he finishes. I’ve never seen a high school kid finish the way he finishes. When he gets contact with the ball carrier, that kid is going backwards and going backwards with force.”
This Sunday, Barajas will visit Michigan State for the first time. An offer from the Spartans could put the Rose Bowl champs in the early driver’s seat.
“I definitely think they can,” Barajas said. “Michigan State is high on my list. I like the way their defense is good year in and year out. They play that Michigan State defense that is known throughout the nation. They are one of the top programs in the country and its just two hours away. I spoke with Coach (Ron Burton, and I talked to him a little bit and he’s an awesome guy and I feel the coaching staff is second to none.”
Two other schools that will have a chance to make a major move with Barajas is Notre Dame and Ohio State. He’ll attend junior day on March 1 in South Bend, and all indications to the Barajas camp from the Irish staff is that an offer could be coming. He’s set to visit Ohio State on March 22.
“An offer from either of them would put a lot of stress on me,” Barajas laughed. “Those are two of the top programs in the country.
“Notre Dame gets to play all over the place which is awesome. They have a great linebacker core with Jaylon Smith and they just got a commit from Nyles Morgan. Their defense is going to be really good. I think them being close to home and they have a beautiful campus, that’s a sweet college.
“Thee Ohio state, they’re a top program in the country year in and year out. I used to be a huge Ohio State fan growing up, that was probably my No. 1 till I got into high school. Thee Ohio State is awesome, Urban Meyer, I really like their coaching staff. I’ve been in contact with my recruiter (Kerry Coombs). I like him a lot. There is just something about Ohio State and their overall college that really interests me.”
Illinois was Barajas’s first college visit back on Jan. 18.
“Illinois they contact me a lot,” Barajas said. “I really like that coaching staff. They really show a lot of interest.”
Purdue was first to offer back on Dec. 20. He’ll visit for the first time next Sunday.
“They are showing a lot of interest so I’m excited to go down there,” Barajas said. “They are on the rise.”
Michigan extended a scholarship to Barajas last week and a spring visit is in the works.
“I’m really excited to visit,” Barajas said. “They’re high on my list because of their tradition. I just haven’t had a lot of contact yet. I want to get to know them better.”
Indiana is another school Barajas looks to see in the coming months, and he does not have a timetable for a college decision.
“If I get that feeling in my gut to commit to a college I’m going to do it,” Barajas said. “I’m just waiting for that right feeling to come up.”