Elite linebacker prospect Josh Barajas flips commitment to Notre Dame

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

What seemed to be a big win for Penn State shifted into only a slight hiccup in Notre Dame’s recruitment of Josh Barajas.

The in-state linebacker prospect flipped his commitment from Nittany Lion to Irish on Friday, breaking a verbal pledge he held with Penn State head coach James Franklin for two months.

Now ND head coach Brian Kelly gets to reap the spoils of the 6-foot-3, 212-pound prospect that plays high school football only 70 miles away in Merrillville, Ind.

Kelly celebrated the news with a simple tweet. “#WeAreND,” it read. Kelly can’t publicly comment on recruits until they sign, but he has started the tradition of rewarding each verbal commitment with that same tweet.

It’s a virtual fist pump and Friday it recognized securing arguably the state’s top 2015 prospect.

Barajas, a four-star recruit at Andrean High School, confirmed his commitment with the Tribune.

What prompted the switch?

Responding via text message, Barajas wrote, “The degree speaks for itself, and also because it’s very close to home, and I want to be close to my family.”

Friday’s decision matched the expectations most recruiting analysts held after the Irish offered Barajas on March 1. He just took a unique route to come to the same conclusion.

“Everyone thought Barajas was going to go to Notre Dame,” said Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports director of recruiting. “When he pulled the trigger for Penn State in March, it took the recruiting world by surprise. Not so much because it was Penn State, but because people felt like he was going to go to Notre Dame.”

The surprise came again on Friday when he flipped out of the blue. The Irish didn’t have to wait to sway him with a campus visit this summer or an official visit for a game this fall.

“I think they may be the best counter-punchers in college football recruiting,” said Tom Lemming, CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst. “They can really go after guys after they commit elsewhere.”

In Barajas, the Irish landed their ninth verbal commitment in the 2015 class. He’s the first member of the class in the defensive front seven.

Barajas projects at Notre Dame as an outside linebacker, a position he's played regularly in high school.

As a junior for Class 3-A state champion Andrean, Barajas recorded 92 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions.

“He has real good quickness, real good instincts and he makes plays,” Lemming said. “He's a playmaker, which is what you want on defense. He's got good height and a body where he can be 240 in a couple years.”

247Sports slates Barajas as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the 2015 class, the No. 157 prospect overall and the best player in Indiana. Rivals ranks him as the No. 14 outside linebacker, No. 206 overall and second in the state.

The commitment marks a win for Kelly over Franklin, who’s working to become a national recruiter in his first year in the Big Ten. Other programs, including Ohio State, Michigan, Missouri and Oregon were also in pursuit of Barajas.

While the Irish span the country for its recruits, a win in their own backyard helps re-establish the in-state supremacy. Kelly has signed Indiana’s top prospect, according to 247Sports and Rivals, each of the last three years — quarterback Gunner Kiel, linebacker Jaylon Smith and wide receiver Justin Brent.

"It's important for Notre Dame to get the guy that they want at the top of their board,” Wiltfong said. “He's the guy they identified early. There's not many in-state guys they target year-in and year-out.”

More offers

A trio of Midwest prospects reported offers from Notre Dame this week. Here's a breakdown of the recruits:

•DL Micah Dew-Treadway, 6-4, 269; Bolingbrook (Ill.) High: A three-star prospect, Dew-Treadway reported an offer from Notre Dame on Thursday. His double-digit offer list includes Wisconsin, Maryland, UConn and Mississippi State. 247Sports slates Dew-Treadway as the No. 29 strongside defensive end and the No. 9 prospect in Illinois. Rivals ranks him as the No. 14 recruit in the state.

Watch highlights of Dew-Treadway here.

DT Brandon Tiassum, 6-4, 296; Indianapolis Park Tudor: Tiassum reported an offer from Notre Dame on Friday. His offer list of nine schools includes Louisville, Miami, Cincinnati and Indiana. Rivals ranks Tiassum as a three-star prospect, the No. 24 defensive tackle in the 2015 class and the No. 4 recruit in Indiana. 247Sports slates him as a four-star prospect, the No. 17 offensive guard in the class and also No. 4 in Indiana.

Watch highlights of Tiassum here.

•CB Nick Coleman, 6-0, 170; Kettering (Ohio) Archbishop Alter: Coleman reported an offer from Notre Dame on Friday. His offer list includes Boston College, Cincinnati, Indiana and Pittsburgh. Rivals ranks Coleman as a three-star prospect and the No. 45 recruit in Ohio. He attends the same high school as Irish quarterback Malik Zaire.

Watch highlights of Coleman here.

TJames1@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

It took a couple of months, but Notre Dame caught on with linebacker prospect Josh Barajas, who originally verbally committed to Penn State. (Photo provided by The Times of Northwest Indiana)