Josh Barajas wasn’t going to play last year anyway.
That doesn’t mean his red-shirt season was an automatic success.
The four-star prospect out of Andrean High School – barely an hour west of Notre Dame – tweaked his hamstring early in training camp last August and plummeted off the coaching staff’s radar. His conditioning wasn’t ideal and Barajas didn’t look like the U.S. Army All-American who was a must-have in recruiting.
But his first spring practice offered a restart for Barajas. It appears he’s seized that opportunity, putting himself in position to get noticed even if playing time may still be hard to come by.
“Josh has probably remade himself physically more so than any player on our team,” said Brian Kelly during spring ball. “He looks really good. He's running well.”
Barajas enrolled in a stacked linebacker class with Asmar Bilal and Te’von Coney and likely enters training camp behind both, even if they’re playing different positions. While Bilal and Coney battle for time at Will linebacker, Barajas will be behind Nyles Morgan at Mike. It’s hard to imagine that as a real competition for time considering the strides Morgan made this off-season.
So what might be in store for Barajas?
Barajas grabs hold of the role James Onwualu did two years ago and becomes one of the program’s best special teams players. There’s always room for 6-foot-2, 240-pound athletes sprinting down the field to cover kickoffs. All due respect to Jarrett Grace, but Barajas can bring more to that role than what Notre Dame got last season from its linebackers. Throw in a forced fumble on a kickoff coverage in a key moment and that could represent a great sophomore season for an athlete just scratching the surface of his potential.
It might be that Notre Dame needs Barajas as more than a special teams demon because that would mean the Irish defense has been decimated by injury or Morgan flopped at middle linebacker. The Irish are due for some luck medically and Morgan looked like the real deal during spring practice, so that doesn’t feel too plausible. If there’s a more likely worst-case scenario it might be that Barajas again falls out of condition and can’t deliver on special teams and practice. But after enduring that last season, the sophomore seems primed for an impactful fall even if he’s not part of the regular defense.
There are plenty of linebackers who took red shirts over the years, including Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and even Joe Schmidt. But one of the more interesting ones is Corey Mays, a super talented athlete who never got much of a shot until his fifth-year. As a sophomore, Mays was limited to special teams, which might be how Barajas spends this fall. But after a scheme change before his fifth-year Mays exploded. He went undrafted out of Notre Dame but then played five years in the NFL. Obviously it’s way too early to compare Barajas to Mays, but this could be a comparison worth remembering.
Development Vs. Recruiting Ranking
Too soon to tell considering Barajas hasn’t played a snap, but his recruiting rankings were the best of Notre Dame’s sophomore linebackers. Scout.com put Barajas at No. 50 overall, 247 slotted him No. 108 and Rivals had him at No. 180. ESPN set the low point on the rankings curve as a four-star prospect outside its Top 300. That network gave the U.S. Army All-American an identical player score as Bilal, Coney, Miles Boykin, C.J. Sanders, Trevor Ruhland and Jalen Guyton. With four years of eligibility remaining, there’s plenty of time for Barajas to match his ranking.
Barajas At This Best
TBD. He worked at Mike linebacker during the spring game and finished with three tackles, although he was a victim on Dexter Williams’ 16-yard touchdown run when he bounced off his classmate.
Quote To Note
“The thing with Josh, when the ball is snapped and then there’s the ball, he’s always around the ball. He’s got a knack for getting to the football. He’s going to be a very productive player when he’s out there.” – Linebackers coach Mike Elston