“Schools are telling me they want to see my junior film first, and then they will figure out what position is best for me,” said Latham. “I believe that I can play both positions, and I will play wherever I can help the team most. I know that my footwork is good enough to play on either side of the ball.”
Football season is finally around the corner for Nicky Baratti.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from Spring, Texas is committed to play safety at Notre Dame in 2012, but he still has one season of high school ball ahead of him. Practice for Baratti’s Klein Oak High School squad begins on Monday.
“I’m pretty excited about that,” he said. “We just ended strength and conditioning on Thursday. We have this week off and start up on Monday.”
The conditioning program began as soon as the school year ended and also served as a team-building exercise.
“We do everything,” he said. “We run on the hill, we run through the sand track, we lift weights, we do sprints and different things. We really do work hard.”
Klein Oak did some 7-on-7 this summer with Baratti playing quarterback and finished second in a tournament at Reliant Stadium. The team also qualified for another state tournament, but that wasn’t as successful.
“I’m not really a pocket-passer type of guy,” Baratti said. “We do a lot of playaction and zone reads, so it’s not really our gig, but we worked on a lot of timing routes and everything. It’s frustrating. I still did fine, but I didn’t do the best I could have done.”
Baratti, who was laser-timed at 4.45 in the 40-yard dash this summer, isn’t too worried about an entire week of two-a-days to start preseason camp.
“It was hard my sophomore year, but I think I’m conditioned well enough now,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to getting into the season.”
Baratti’s squad had a decent season in 2010, finishing 8-4, but lost to Stony Point in the second round of the playoffs and has plenty of motivation for 2011.
“We always bring up that loss,” he said. “We got second in the district behind Klein Collins, which is pretty much our biggest rival, so we just focus on the teams we lost to and try to get better. We’re trying to get better in every way possible. Our first goal is to win district and I think we can get this done.
“We’ve got a lot of skill guys coming back. Both of our corners and safeties are coming back and some linebackers, a lot of receivers, but we lost pretty much our whole offensive line. I think we’ll be fine. They worked a lot during spring and they’re coming together. Once two-a-days come and the season comes around, I think we’ll be fine.”
Baratti, who will take his official visit to Notre Dame for the Michigan State game during his team’s only bye week in September, had hoped to see some significant time at his future college position, but it sounds like the needs of his high school team will take precedent.
“I talked to my coach and he told me in key situations, I’d play defense,” Baratti said. “He said he doesn’t want me to get hurt and doesn’t want the team to suffer just because I want to play safety. I feel where he’s coming from, but I’m going to be chomping at the bit to get in at safety.”
That’s fine with Baratti, who puts the team goals ahead of his personal goals anyway, although he did admit to having one very big goal for himself.
“I’m looking more for the team and not what I do,” he said. “My first goal is just to win district and worry about everything else after that. I want to get First Team All-State, that’s my main goal for myself.”
2013 offensive lineman Marcell Lazard (Bloomfield, N.J. /Bloomfield) knew he would be flying under the radar when he went to Notre Dame's camp in June because not many people knew who he was. Lazard felt it would up to him to make a lasting impression on the Irish staff.
“I felt like I did really well at Notre Dame's camp,” said Lazard. “I believe I showed them what I really have to offer and I think I impressed them.”
He was able to confirm that statement by talking directly to the Irish coaching staff after the event and hearing what they felt of his performance.
“I had a chance to speak to the offensive line coach (Ed Warinner) and a number of the other coaches,” said the Bloomfield star. “When I first got there, they were really excited to meet me and were also really excited to see what kind of skills I had. Once I got out there and showed them what I can do, they said I did a really good job.
“They said if I continued to keep improving like I've already been doing, I could probably have an offer by next year.”
That would be an offer the 6-foot-5, 285-pound lineman would definitely be highly interested in to go along with the three he has already received from Buffalo, Connecticut and Virginia.
“I like Notre Dame for many reasons,” he claimed. “First off, you have the tradition of the place, the stadium and the academic aspects. I spoke to the academic advisor while I was up there and we talked about all the different things you need to do to be successful at Notre Dame. We discussed how the practice schedule ties into schooling and it really appealed to me.”
Knowing that the Irish coaches will have their eyes on him this upcoming season, Lazard plans on doing everything he can to secure that Notre Dame offer if possible.
“When a school like Notre Dame tells you they're interested, it definitely gives you the fire to keep getting better,” he said. “Right now, I think I need to improve on a couple things and I believe first would be my initial explosiveness off the line. I think I need to improve on my initial punch because I'm a very good pass blocker, but I have to get a little bit better at run blocking and being more consistent. I have to learn to finish my blocks longer if I want to compete at the next level.”
The talented New Jersey product also believes Notre Dame's camp was a good measuring stick on where he stands compared to other prospects in his class.
“Being able to face some of the competition I faced up there is definitely going to help me get better,” said the New Jersey standout. “To be considered a prospect from Notre Dame you have to be one of the top players in the country, and being able to go up against those guys really enhances my skills and it gives me an idea of what I'd be going up against at the next level.”
Even though this was his first visit to South Bend, he hopes it won't be his last.
“It's just a very, very nice campus up there,” said the talented 2013 offensive lineman. “You can really tell the tradition and history by just looking at the stadium because it's old, but it's also like marble at the same time. It's a huge stadium and you just look and think about all the guys that’ve played there, it's just really crazy.
“I'm definitely hoping to make it back up to Notre Dame sometime next year. I'd like to get up there and catch a game and see what the atmosphere is like.”
Jarron Jones and his family had hoped to plan another round of visits before the fall to make sure Jarron is completely comfortable the next time he makes a decision, but with time running out this summer, it’s not clear whether they’ll be able to get on the road again.
Jarron won’t make a decision before the start of the upcoming football season, but a decision on which schools get official visits may end up being almost as important.
“The teammates are very important and how he feels with the relationship he has with the coach is very important,” she said. “By the time it’s time for official visits, I don’t want to have to go to five schools, honestly. Even though it is an official visit and things are free for him, it’s not free for us and we’re going to with him.
“I’m not going to send my son to go evaluate what people are saying and people are doing on his own. I want him to have that independence to go on his own, but I want to go and hear for the third or fourth time what people are saying because I want to see if they’re telling us the same things and decipher if they are being truthful.”
As Jarron enters his final season of high school, his parents are making sure he understands the kind of attention he’ll be receiving.
“I’m real proud of him because he stays grounded,” Matt Jones said. “He’s very, very humble. He knows he needs to get better. He knows that now, even more so, he’s got a target on him. If their son plays against Jarron, every dad is going to be in the stadium with their camera right on him waiting for Jarron to make a mistake so they can send a video to the colleges of their son.
“He knows he has to work harder and he has to get better.”
Meanwhile, he’s working through a busy summer, which includes summer school sessions at the insistence of his mother.
“Anything less than a C, he’s going to summer school, that’s been my mantra,” Lakiescha said.
Aside from the financial sacrifices she makes to pay for summer school, Jarron also misses out on things during the summer, according to his mother.
“Those are the costs that he has to pay because he chose to take it lax during the school year or previous years,” she said. “I’m making sure that those Clearinghouse numbers are good.”
Jarron admits that his mother can be tough, but finds a way to appreciate it.
“Yeah, she is,” he laughed. “It’s annoying, but it’s helpful.”
Lakiescha is making sure her son understands the value of an education.
“He’s learning and he’s understanding that he can’t do one without the other,” she said. “I’m very proud of him, but I understand that the reality is it can be gone tomorrow. I need him more academically sound and making good daily choices.
“The football thing, I’m not really worried about it. Honestly, that’s God. That’s God to keep him healthy and him making sure he does his weight-lifting, making sure he’s keeping his body healthy. More importantly for me, I want him to enrich himself spiritually and educationally. That’s going to take him so much further than football. I tell him, ‘Football is laying the path for you, but it’s up to you to take that car and drive it. You can decide how bumpy that road is going to be or how smooth it’s going to be. It’s up to you.’ Football is laying down the concrete for him to be able to take the drive that he’s taking.”
Matt and Lakeischa Jones had mapped out five schools for their son Jarron to consider as finalists – Penn State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse and Notre Dame – before embarking on trips to see the four farthest away. An ‘official unofficial’ visit to nearby Syracuse still hasn’t occurred, but will in the future.
“We wanted him to have knowledge of these schools, so we packed up the family and went and visited these places,” Matt Jones sad. “We sat down and talked to these coaches. We asked questions, talked to the players there. We wanted him to make a knowledgeable decision because it is going to be his decision and is something he has to be comfortable with.”
The family found a way to merge Jarron’s recruitment with family vacations, making stops around the country at nearby family parks. The round of visits in June was capped with a trip to Notre Dame and Jarron withdrew his verbal from the Nittany Lions upon his return. Even Jarron’s father isn’t sure how much the visit to Notre Dame had to do with his decommitment.
“I don’t know what he was thinking,” Matt said. “Knowing what he needs academically is a smaller class size and the personalized teaching; I think that had a part to play in it. I don’t think it had anything to do so much with the coaches at Notre Dame, I think it had more to do with learning about what Notre Dame was and who they are.”
But Matt and his wife were certainly impressed with Brian Kelly’s staff, especially defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, during their stop in South Bend.
“Oh, I loved Coach Kelly, loved Diaco even more,” Lakiescha said. “I loved Diaco’s enthusiasm. My husband was very impressed with the fact that they’re young, they have a lot of ideas and they seem like they know what they’re doing. I love what they’re planning to do and they really make you see it. They’re not telling my son he’s going to be the star or that he’s going to be the only one. He’s going to part of a puzzle.”
Aquinas head coach Chris Battaglia has been able to relate to Jarron and Matt believes Diaco’s youth would help him relate to Jarron as well.
“We were very impressed with his straight-forwardness,” Matt said of Diaco. “We were very impressed that he was so young and energetic. That’s another thing that I was looking for in a coaching staff. Coach Battaglia is young and energetic and that’s what motivates Jarron.
“Nothing against coaches who are a little bit older because I know they’re very, very knowledgeable, but I don’t know if they’re as energetic as Diaco would be.”
At the request of his father, Jarron followed the 2011 recruiting process over the internet to get an idea of what would be on the horizon for him. One prospect Jarron followed was Ishaq Williams, so the family heard about Diaco’s 4:30 a.m. wakeup call in Brooklyn, which sealed Williams’ commitment to the Irish.
“We thought it was pretty funny,” Matt laughed. “I don’t think he could go the same route with us. At 4:30 a.m., he might be out there for a pretty long time.”
Jarron had the chance to meet Williams along with Manti Te’o during his visit to Notre Dame.
“He was very impressed with them and how friendly they were and how forthcoming they were,” Matt said of the Irish defenders. “Just thinking about playing on that defensive line with somebody like Ishaq behind him, that was an added bonus.”
There was a lot to like about Notre Dame for the Jones family.
“For me personally, just having the serenity of God and God’s presence is great,” said Lakiescha. “I know God is everywhere, but Notre Dame being a Catholic school, I do feel there is more of a presence. There is more serenity when you have a school that puts God first, before everything.”
Jarron’s older brother attends a Catholic university and all of the Jones kids are encouraged to use their faith for guidance.
“I always tell them, ‘If anything ever happens and you feel things are so bad and you can’t get in touch with me or your dad or your grandma, you go to the Chapel,’” said Lakiescha. “‘You get on your knees and you tell him. Even though you don’t have to go to the Chapel, you can get on your knees in your room, there’s nothing like going and knowing you have a church and there’s somewhere you can go 24-hours-a-day. Having someone and having other people and resources to depend on and having faith is important.”
After making the trip to South Bend, the family would feel comfortable sending their son outside of the radius they set with the idea of keeping him close.
“Now that we’ve met with Coach Kelly and the defensive coaches and some of the players, as far as parents, we can trust Notre Dame,” said Matt, who is convinced Kelly will have success at Notre Dame.
“I look at the work Coach Kelly has done so far. He’s won everywhere he’s been and now that he’s getting a shot at one of the best schools in the nation, I don’t think it should be any different.”
Lakiescha was impressed with the honesty of the Irish staff.
“I never want to be sold that my son is going to be the biggest and the best because he’s not,” she said. “He has work to do. I know that with college, he can get better and get stronger. I want him to understand that he’s always going to have to be fighting for his position. There’s a walk-on who can easily come in and maybe they didn’t get the attention he got, but he can come in and get that spot. That’s a reality.
“I tell all of my kids, ‘I’m going to be your biggest cheerleader, but I’m going to be you’re biggest critic, because that’s reality.’ Some people think I’m too hard on my kids, but I don’t want someone to say something to my son that they haven’t already heard from me. They’re going to know what they heard from me is the truth and if someone is saying something worse that they haven’t heard from me, they know that’s not even true. They know I’m going to tell them face-value regardless. I’m going to give it to them cards-up. Why even hide anything? The world is going to treat them worse than I am, but they know I love them.”
The series' final installment will be published later on Tuesday.
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