Nicky Baratti's father, Clarke, envisioned his son at Notre Dame early. During a junior day last year, then-Irish safeties coach Chuck Martin gave a speech about being the player on the field who wants to win the most. When Martin, now the offensive coordinator, punctuated the speech by saying "If you're that kid, this is the school for you," the juices starting flowing for Baratti, then a junior at Klein Oak High School in Spring, Texas.
He committed not long after, while visiting for the annual Blue-Gold game. His father, in China on a business trip, woke up to a Facebook message from his son with the news.
Baratti, rated a three-star athlete, has played six different positions in high school — including punter — and will arrive on campus this June as a safety. His father was a walk-on guard at Southern Mississippi. His older brother, Alfred, is hoping back issues won't get in the way of playing at Texas State. His younger brother, Bart, is honing his skills in the eighth grade. And his mother, Jill, insists her middle son be called "Nicky," though he says he has no preference.
Here, Baratti talks about his versatility and what ultimately sold him on Notre Dame.
Nick or Nicky?
Nick Barrati: I don't prefer any. You can put whatever you want with that. (laughs)
Coach Brian Kelly mentioned you on national signing day as a potential steal, calling you a "football player." When did you first fall in love with the game and how does that translate into your versatility as a quarterback, running back, tight end or safety?
NB: I've been playing football since I was in second grade, so I guess I've been around it so much. I guess being versatile makes you love the game even more because you don't get the viewpoint just from one position; you get it from all five, or however many positions you play. So it makes you fall in love with the game even more and be even more competitive with it.
That love of the game is a reference Kelly seems to make often. Can you kind of tell you guys are cut from the same cloth?
NB: Oh, definitely. I'm sure he was raised the same way I'm raised, and the same kind of mindset I have with him and getting along just fine. And you can tell how when you like somebody, you're not like stressed out when he comes or you're not worried or nervous — I don't know, it's not like meeting the president, you know what I mean? It's laid back, it's cool. He understands what he wants and I understand what I need to do, so very laid back but a very competitive guy.
What position is your first love?
NB: I loved playing running back, that was probably my first love. That's what I played all through middle school and even pee wee football. I really like playing running back but I don't mind switching to play safety. I don't mind at all.
What stood out to you most about the spring game? How did you know right then that Notre Dame was the place for you?
NB: I guess you could say the coaching staff. The coaching staff was unbelievable. I got looked at from all different kinds of schools. And Notre Dame, their coaching staff just really showed that they wanted you. And they really showed how much they want you and how they need you; they're almost like a family. I'd get messages from Coach [Kerry] Cooks almost every day, asking me how I'm doing or anything. Probably the coaching staff and then outside of that just the overall atmosphere of Notre Dame. I thought after football I'd have a great degree from Notre Dame, and they have a lot of connections and everything.
Do you know what you plan to major in yet?
NB: I'll probably major in business and then marketing.
Did they tell you early on that your future was at safety?
NB: Coach Cooks, when he first started recruiting me, he was mostly recruiting me as a defensive back, he didn't know where yet. But they kept going on and on, and they really wanted me to play safety.
Was that a common theme with most of the other schools you were looking at — were most of them looking at you as a safety or were they more open or more specific with other positions?
NB: Tennessee offered me to play outside linebacker, and I never even played outside linebacker. I had offers to play cornerback, receiver, running back, tight end. But I didn't choose Notre Dame just because of the position. I chose Notre Dame because of what's after football, and the coaching staff. And how they were with me and my family and how they treated me. That's the main reason I picked them.
What was the relationship like between you and Kerry Cooks (his main recruiter)?
NB: He's probably my favorite coach. He's really cool. He knows how a kid thinks. He can be a coach and then he can be like a best friend for you. I thought that was the coolest thing. And he really cares about you. I remember he came to see me my junior year, just about when we were in the middle of football season. And then he started emailing me on Facebook and I kept getting more and more; they finally offered me after my junior season. Coach Cooks stayed at it.
Have you talked with [new safeties coach] Bob Elliott at all, and did that move kind of catch you off-guard?
NB: I talked to him a couple times already. He seems like a real good guy. I hear nothing but good stuff from Coach Cooks and Coach [Bob] Diaco about him, so I'm sure he's a great guy, he's a great coach. He knows the game, been around it forever. I'm looking forward to him coaching me.
There are a handful of players from Texas on the team. Have you been able to talk with them at all, either through your recruitment or since you committed, and does that give you an extra level of comfort knowing that you're going to be so far away from home and that other people are going through that, too?
NB: I talk to Jalen [Brown] quite a bit. He's probably the main guy I talk to that's on the team right now. So I guess because we're both from Texas, I kind of get a feel for how he feels up there and being away from home.
What are your plans now in terms of workouts, staying in shape, getting ready for your arrival on campus? What are you doing now to stay active and get a step ahead?
NB: I had a personal trainer. I stopped doing that because track started a couple weeks ago. So I'm doing track right now. I'm doing the Notre Dame workouts that they sent in and after track season I'll hit it hard again with my trainer until I go back up.