The five-star out of Corona (Calif.) Santiago not only moved the meter when he made his pledge to Alabama over Oregon in mid-June, but soon after while participating at Nike’s The Opening and the annual Elite 11 finals. Each event had a Crimson Tide flair to it, and the dual-threat senior was a big reason why. Not only did he lead his 7on team to the tournament championship along with fellow five-star ‘Bama commitment Calvin Ridley, but Scout’s No. 3 QB also edged out nearly 20 of the nation’s top signal callers en route to taking home the Elite 11 finals MVP at the event’s conclusion.
The July event capped a super summer for Barnett, who is now beginning his senior season before graduating early and enrolling at Alabama in January of 2015. The one-time Notre Dame commitment was on an interesting recruiting path before giving Nick Saban and company his verbal pledge, and his mother, Gina Harris was there for it all.
BamaMag caught up with her of late to detail her perspective in arguably the biggest individual recruiting storyline of the summer.
BamaMag.com: What did you think about the recruiting process, in the beginning when he (Barnett) committed to Notre Dame and what’s happened since?
Gina Harris: Everything has been really sudden. It started in November, when we went back to visit Notre Dame and we all fell in love with it. The campus, everything about it, the coaches, etc. We came back home and talked about it, and Blake decided to commit at the BYU game (November 23).
Then, obviously a few months ago (June 4), I think he really thought about it and decided, ‘I don’t know if this is really what I want. I want to take a look at a bunch of other schools and see what else is out there.’
BamaMag: Did he not take in the whole recruiting process, getting a full look at several schools?
Harris: Correct, he thought he rushed it. He kind of jumped into it too quick, we all did. So he didn’t get the chance to really look at any other campuses. When we started thinking about it and looking around, he really liked Oregon, and he decided, ‘I’m going to go and take a look at Oregon.’ He was honest about it, and let Coach [Brian] Kelly know that he was going to visit Oregon. Then we went, and fell in love with that. Then we went to the Rivals camp (Baltimore, Md.) and we went to New York for a few days, for vacation.
On the way back, he was like, ‘let’s go check out a few more schools.’ So that’s when we decided to go by Alabama.
BamaMag: So the Alabama trip wasn’t previously planned, it was all spur-of-the-moment?
Harris: Oh yea, very much so. They had kept in touch, they were very respectful of his commitment to Notre Dame, but they were always in the back (of his mind). It was Coach [Lane] Kiffin. They established a relationship, but didn’t talk too often. So we just decided to go and visit. We were only supposed to go for a day, and we ended up being there for four days.
Harris: Several reasons, he really liked the coaches, he really liked Coach [Nick] Saban. He ended up watching a camp there, spending more time there and really looking at everything about Alabama. Between the coaching, the education, the campus…
BamaMag: Did distance from home ever come up in the conversation?
Harris: We were open to any school, I don’t think distance was a big issue.
BamaMag: So what makes this decision different from the Notre Dame commitment, and how do you guys feel it will play out going forward? Is it completely done, since he has seen some other schools?
Harris: It’s completely done. We’re done. A lot of it (about Alabama) makes it different. Obviously, it’s the SEC, and this is a good place for him to learn and possibly go on to the NFL, which is his ultimate goal. And he really, really likes the coaching staff. He really likes Saban, he really respected them, and it was really nice to have the chance to spend so much time there with everybody. We really didn’t with Notre Dame, that was a downfall.
It’s a done deal. It better be a done deal (laughing). He’s not changing.
BamaMag: About Coach Kiffin, you said he was very respectful when Blake was committed to Notre Dame, then he de-committed while on that Oregon trip, so how did Kiffin’s approach change?
Harris: I don’t think it changed much, to be honest with you. They just kept that contact. We’re the ones that really pursued going back to visit Alabama to see what they had to offer. So once he got there and saw everything about it, that was it.
BamaMag: What’s Kiffin like? There’s a sort of mystique about him, and you guys probably knew more of him being in California…
Harris: Great guy. He’s a great guy. Funny, very laid back, very nice man. I didn’t spend as much time with him as Blake did, obviously, but he seems like a great guy. He and Blake hit it off and formed a really great bond.
The Opening: Blake Barnett Highlights
If you missed Barnett on the Crimson and Blue Chips podcast this week, our full interview with him is available below.
Discuss Barnett’s journey and much more within the premium member forum HERE.