Andrean's Josh Barajas brings winning mindset to Notre Dame

FRESHMAN FOCUS

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Josh Barajas is a product of repetition.

At Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., Barajas — a 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker — won, and won, and won, and won. He won on sunny days and snowy nights, in run-down fields and massive stadiums. He won in shutouts and shootouts, in rivalry games and playoff games and everything in between.

And while Andrean won, Barajas thrived. The physical, roaming linebacker accounted for 98 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and one interception in his senior season. He was the vicious mainstay in the heart of a relentless defense.

“He’s a tackling machine,” said Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for Rivals.

All things told, Barajas and his brothers on the Andrean Fighting 59ers won 29 consecutive games, one of those being a 2013 state title. Success was fought for, then earned, and eventually, expected.

That mindset, of course, made the crashing thud of a finale all the more devastating. In the final game of Barajas’ prep career, Andrean fell to Tri-West Hendricks 49-27 in the 2014 Indiana Class 3-A state championship game.

He won, until he didn’t.

“When you win all those games, it becomes a habit,” Barajas said. “And anything less is a failure almost. It’s not up to your expectations. Winning 29 games in a row, and then losing one, I don’t want to have that losing feeling ever again.

“Winning has become a mentality and a habit. I want to continue that through my four years at Notre Dame.”

Barajas’ next potential win looms barely four months away, when the freshman’s new team — Notre Dame — hosts Texas under the stadium lights on Sept. 5. For the consensus four-star prospect, ranked by Rivals as the No. 2 player in the state of Indiana in the 2015 signing class, it’s a grueling wait, filled with constant reminders of the road ahead.

Living barely an hour from South Bend, Barajas sees Notre Dame apparel everywhere. Strangers shake his hand and shout encouragement out of car windows as they pass.

The future teases him — out of reach, but omnipresent.

“It’s on my mind every day, I can honestly say,” Barajas said. “Everyone tells you to enjoy high school and the rest of it. But man, I’m ready to go.”

While Barajas’ success isn’t guaranteed to translate to the next level, there’s little doubt that the crushing linebacker will embrace a larger stage. In the last two years, he played in a pair of state title games as well as the 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, repeatedly showcasing an elite skill set on an elevated platform.

The venues may change, Barajas said, but the game never does.

“You don’t want to get too in awe,” Barajas said. “The football field there is the same football field, the same length and everything. But playing in front of all of those people just gives you a different type of feeling than just a regular high school football game. It makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.”

A high school all-star game, however, is a far cry from a nationally televised season opener inside the hallowed gates of Notre Dame Stadium. The path already traveled, albeit littered with wins, can’t help Barajas answer the question banging around in his head.

What will it feel like when he takes the field on Sept. 5?

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Barajas said. “I don’t think anything I can do is going to simulate that feeling of running out for a night game with that type of crowd and atmosphere. Nothing else is going to be like it, or even come close.”

Eventually, though, the shock and awe will give way to — what else — a football game.

And maybe, another winning streak.

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Andrean's Josh Barajas plays with a bandaged hand in Andrean's 49-27 loss to Tri-West in the IHSAA Class 3A state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photo courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana)