Football: Andrean’s Josh Barajas eyes a state title repeat
By Dave Melton Post-Tribune correspondent November 27, 2013 5:34PM
Andrean's defender Josh Barajas (44) reacts after making a stop against Lowell during their game held at Lowell High School on Friday October 18, 2013. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 30, 2013 11:59AM
MERRILLVILLE — Friday’s state championship game is going to feel awfully familiar to Andrean junior linebacker Josh Barajas.
One year ago, Barajas was a linebacker for Mount Carmel High School, which competed in the Illinois Class 8A state championship game against Glenbard North at the University of Illinois in Champaign. The Caravan won that game 28-14 for the 11th state title in program history.
“To be able to go that far and win a state championship … it was a pretty awesome experience to be a part of,” Barajas said.
One year later and one state to the east, Barajas is back in a state championship game, this time as part of the undefeated Andrean 59ers (14-0), who’ll face Brebeuf Jesuit (11-3) on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Class 3A state title.
This journey back to the state championship game began when his family moved from Highland to Valparaiso, making the drive to Mount Carmel too far to handle. So, Barajas enrolled at Andrean over the summer, with his parents wanting him to continue to receive an education from a Catholic school.
Head coach Phil Mason knew he had a special player the first time he met the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Barajas.
“Doing this as long as I have, when you see a kid walk into your office, you recognize that he looks the part,” Mason recalled. “It didn’t take long for us to realize what kind of player he was.”
For Barajas, it didn’t take him long to realize he was part of another special team.
“At the scrimmage against Crown Point, that’s when I realized how good we were going to be,” he said. “We played with so much intensity on offense and defense.”
Barajas had to adjust to a new scheme at Andrean, slotting in at the linebacker position in Mason’s 3-4 defense, and being granted a football luxury similar to the one that the Bears gave Brian Urlacher early in his career.
Early in the 2000s, the Bears put 700 pounds of defensive tackle in front of their young linebacker in the form of Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, believing that those two would eat up enough blocks to allow Urlacher to roam free.
The same principle applies at Andrean, where the interior trio of Tyler Bruce (6-foot-1, 285 pounds), Jhalon Beeks (5-foot-10, 265 pounds) and Lukus Berber (6-foot-1, 285 pounds) control much of the focus of opposing interior lineman. That allows Barajas to navigate the field with less traffic in his way.
“I thank those guys every single game,” Barajas said of the defensive linemen in front of him. “They just pave the way for us to make all of the tackles.”
“They don’t allow people to get up to our linebackers,” said Mason. “That’s their job on the inside.”
That defensive philosophy has helped Barajas rack up 82 tackles, four sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception this fall, with one game still yet to be played. It’s been a dominant postseason for the entire Andrean defense, which has only allowed one of its five opponents to score double digits.
But one more dominant performance will be required of Barajas and this 59ers defense if they’re going to be cemented in the immortality of completing an undefeated season and winning a state championship.
“At this point in the season, there’s no room for slacking,” Barajas said. “You have to be all in.”
One question, though, did keep Barajas from going all in: who would win in a matchup between the 2012 Mount Carmel team and this year’s Andrean squad?
He laughed, then said: “I think it’d go at least three overtimes … and then probably end in a tie, somehow.”