Just about a year ago, Josh Barajas walked into Phil Mason's office. He explained to the Andrean High head coach that his family was moving because of his father's job and he would have to transfer from Mount Carmel in Chicago. Over the next year, Barajas would develop into a star linebacker. He, Coach Mason and the 59ers would go 15-0 and win a state title and college scholarship offers would come from around the country.
It is something Mason had hoped would happen when he saw Barajas as a young man.
"I knew who he was in grammar school," he said. "He was at nearby Highland and we were hopeful we would get him to our place, but he went over to Mount Carmel and then his father got a new job and he told me he was moving to Valpo."
One of Barajas' best performances came in the state title game victory over Brebeuf Jesuit. After that performance, Illinois came in and offered and Mason says everything took off from there. In the last two weeks, Michigan, Penn State, North Carolina State, Indiana and Virginia Tech have all offered and the flood of interest has shown no signs of slowing down.
"We thought he would have some opportunities, but weren't sure it would get to this level. I'm happy for him. He's a great young man, a very humble young man and he represents our school very well."
Mason admits he could have, and maybe should have gotten the ball to Barajas more on offense, but he had a stable of skill talent which allowed him to focus more on defense. Andrean faced several teams with standout receivers during their championship run and while most teams would put their top corner out there to match up with those star pass catchers, Mason turned to his 6-foot-3, 210-pound outside linebacker.
"The [Lonnie] Johnson kid from Gary West Side who originally committed to Ohio State, we had him locked out there in man coverage against him. West Lafayette had a big 6-foot-4 wide receiver in the semi-state game and we locked him out there at corner and Josh had two interceptions. It's that kind of stuff that opened people's eyes to what kind of kid he was. He's just a great player."
With his process beginning to explode and college visits beginning to take place (he visited Michigan and Michigan State last week and has Notre Dame coming up on March 1st), Barajas is having to think seriously about his future. Mason says all of the schools recruiting him are great academic institutions, so determining where he wants to be will come down to more than that.
"I think he's a little bit overwhelmed as I think any 16-year-old kid would be. I talked to him about it and I think relationship with his position coach is the most important thing to look at. There are going to be days were, you may be a great athlete, but whether you're a first teamer or third teamer, those tough days when you're walking back to the dorm, hoodie up and question, 'did I make the right decision?' Then you stop and look at the buildings and facilities and say, 'but I really want to be here.'"
He has no doubt that the coaching staff that ends up landing Barajas will find out what he already knows -- that he's a high character young man.
"They're getting a great kid. They're getting a great all around kid in their program. A kid that every day they will enjoy seeing. He'll bring lot of smiles to teammates, he's always wanting to have fun. He's a great student, very well liked by his peers and all our faculty. You don't find a better kid than this guy."
Oh yeah, he can play a little football too.
"On the field, he's a cougar. When he's laying there, he may look pretty and you want to go up and pet him because he's such a nice kid, but he gets inside the lines and he'll bite you hands off. He gets after it. He has that edge to him. That's what makes him special is off the field, he's a great, polite kid, but on the field, he's mean and gets after it."