On a Utah defense that lost two stellar linebackers — Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell — to the NFL, freshman Lander Barton has an opportunity to make an immediate impact. 

And maybe eventually evolve into the next great Utah linebacker.

Barton, a Brighton High product, enrolled early at the University of Utah and has been taking first-team reps since spring practices. 

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During his career at Brighton, Barton was a proven playmaker, recording 293 tackles with 14 sacks, six interceptions and three defensive touchdowns. 

The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has plenty of football instincts, an impressive pedigree — his older brothers Cody and Jackson starred at Utah before going on to NFL careers — and a lot of athleticism.

What Lander Barton lacks, of course, is game experience at the college level. 

That will change when the Utes open the season on Sept. 3 at Florida. What a way to start a college career.

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“I’ve just got to do it. We’ll see come Game 1,” Barton said. “It will be my first experience.”

“Lander Barton was here in the spring. He’s the one that’s going to have to get that game experience,” said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “Because there’s nothing like playing under the lights and all of the sudden people are cheering and booing you. That’s one thing that he needs to get used to.”

Linebackers coach Colton Swan has enjoyed working with Barton since the spring.

“He’s this big, nice blank canvass when I got him. I was able to put some strokes on it and start painting. He’s really cerebral. He’s a very conscientious kid,” Swan said. “He’s smart. He can handle a very good workload, not to mention he’s a freak athlete. He’s a well-rounded football player. He has great size, great speed, great intellect. His growth in the time that I’ve had him has been a large amount. He’s shown great things thus far in camp and he’s doing a great job.”

Another newcomer, Mohamoud Diabate, a senior transfer from Florida, has been impressed with Barton. Diabate has been helping the freshman learn about playing at this level. 

“I would tell Lander he’s in a great position. … I was in a similar situation when I got to Florida my freshman year,” he said. “I was ready to play and I had an older guy to lean on and learn from. Now he’s with the Houston Texans and we still talk every other day. Those relationships are very important. They helped me come a long way and I think it will be the same way for Lander.”

Barton appreciates what he’s learned from Diabate and how he’s aided his development. 

“He’s a great player. He’s very smart. Just watching him in practice, he’s explosive on the field, making plays left and right,” he said. “It’s amazing to be able to pick his brain on football knowledge and even stuff outside of football. He’s a great guy.”

Back in the spring, coach Kyle Whittingham raved about Barton’s performance, fresh out of high school.

“When you consider that he should still be in high school right now, it’s pretty amazing what he’s doing, but it’s no surprise. He has all the tools,” Whittingham said. “When we recruited him, we felt like we knew exactly what we were getting. He’s 6-4 and 230 pounds and runs really well. There’s nothing that’s surprising us, but it’s pretty impressive what he’s doing at such an early stage.”

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In fall camp, Barton has made big strides.

“He’s a lot more confident. It’s in the communication from player to player because the linebackers are always communicating,” Scalley said. “Those younger guys are usually quiet and the vets are yelling and screaming. You can tell he’s gained a lot during the offseason. He’s getting much more confident.”

Barton said he’s ready to take on whatever responsibilities he’s given during the season.

“My family is always telling me I’m the quiet one in the family. But you’re on the field, you’ve got to flip the switch,” he said. “You’ve got to become loud and vocal and a leader. I feel like I’m able to do that as a young guy.”

Brighton’s Lander Barton tries to fend off Olympus’ James Smith.
Brighton’s Lander Barton tries to fend off Olympus’ James Smith during game on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. Barton has since taken his game to the University of Utah. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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