Linebacker Lander Barton arrived on campus at Utah in January 2022, with high expectations and an impressive pedigree.

“He’s exactly what we hoped he would be when we recruited him. He’s like an old veteran now. He’s only been here a year but he plays and performs like a veteran. He’s one of our team leaders already, only a year into the program.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Lander Barton

His two older brothers, Cody and Jackson, starred for the Utes before going on to play in the NFL. 

Lander’s father, Paul, played football and baseball at Utah, while his mother, Mikki-Kane Barton, is a two-time honorable mention All-America basketball player. She also played volleyball for the Utes and she’s been enshrined in the Crimson Club Hall of Fame. 

And his sister, Dani Drews, was a two-time All-American for the Utah women’s volleyball team.

Last season, as a true freshman, Lander Barton started three games, and played in all 14 — and experienced a steep learning curve. 

“Last year, I was kind of a deer in the headlights,” the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Brighton High product recalled. “I didn’t really know what was going on and I was being caught by surprise every play.”

However, during spring practices heading into his sophomore year, Barton is feeling more comfortable. 

“Now, I feel in the flow of things out there,” he said. “It’s been good.”

Things have been going so well for Barton this spring that coach Kyle Whittingham has heaped effusive praise on the linebacker, who is transforming out of his young buck stage.

The coach said Barton has taken a big step forward during the year-plus that he’s been with the Utes. 

“He’s a tremendous football player. He’s exactly what we hoped he would be when we recruited him,” Whittingham said. “He’s like an old veteran now. He’s only been here a year but he plays and performs like a veteran. He’s one of our team leaders already, only a year into the program.”

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Informed of Whittingham’s comments about being a veteran, well, he said he still doesn’t feel like one. 

“Not even close. I’m still one of the young guys,” he said, adding that he appreciates Whittingham’s comments. 

“That means a lot coming from him,” Barton said, “but I still have got things to learn and things to grow.”

What about Whittingham’s remarks about Barton being a team leader? 

“It means a lot, hearing that from the big guy. I’ve still got a long way to go in my role here,” he said. “But I try to lead by example. I’m not a super vocal guy out there but I want to lead by putting my head down and working hard and getting things done.”

As a freshman, Barton tallied 46 tackles, including 8.0 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one pass breakup, three quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. 

How does linebackers coach Colton Swan evaluate Barton’s first season in the program?

“When you’ve played in a lot of reps as a freshman and you’ve been very good at it — he was our newcomer defensive player of the year — he’s got to do a really good job of fine-tuning all the little techniques to make him great,” Swan said. “When you’re a good player and you do a lot of good things naturally, you have to take your time, look at your film and figure out exactly what it is that you can fine-tune and evolve your play to the next level.”

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is also pleased with Barton’s development. 

“Lander has made, as you would expect from his freshman to his sophomore year, a ton of progress,” he said. “He’s gotten stronger in the weight room, he’s faster, he knows the defense.”

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Last season, Barton enjoyed playing with fellow linebackers Mohamoud Diabate and Karene Reid, from whom he learned a lot. 

“Just watching them play and practicing with them every day, being able to see what they do and trying to incorporate it into my game, I couldn’t ask for better guys to learn from. It was an honor to play behind them and learn from them. They were just helping me get better along the way.”

Of course, Barton’s older brothers, Cody — a linebacker for the Washington Commanders — and Jackson — an offensive tackle for the Arizona Cardinals — still coach him up. 

“When I talk to them, we always talk about ball. Cody and Jackson always have things to teach me, whether it’s from an offensive standpoint from Jackson or a linebacker standpoint from Cody,” he said. 

After a freshman season filled with deer-in-the-headlights moments, the spring has been a time for Barton to focus on improving every day. 

“It’s been awesome. It’s been cold. It’s been a cold spring ball,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. A great experience out here to learn and get better.”

The White team’s Devaughn Vele is tackled by the Red team’s Lander Barton during Red and White Game in Salt Lake City.
The White team’s Devaughn Vele is tackled by the Red team’s Lander Barton during the University of Utah’s Red and White game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 23, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News