MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — You could see the glint of awe in Jackson Barton’s eyes, and there was good reason for it.
This Utah-born offensive tackle is headed to the Super Bowl.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never been a part of anything like this in my life before,” Barton said while looking up at the bright lights and oversized banners on display Monday at the Super Bowl LIV opening night event at Marlins Park. “This is totally unexpected and I’m very blessed to be in this opportunity.”
His Kansas City Chiefs will face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday (4:15 p.m. MST, TV: FOX) at Hard Rock Stadium.
How the former Ute lineman got to this point takes a bit of a winding journey, and some brotherly love.
“Entering the NFL has been a humbling experience because it shows you everybody has a lot to learn and a long way to go. It’s a great opportunity to keep building your game and keep expanding your horizons,” Barton said.
Starting the journey
At this time a year ago following his career at Utah, he was preparing for the 2019 NFL draft. Barton ended up being drafted in the seventh round by the Indianapolis Colts.
It was a special moment, one the 24-year-old shared with his younger brother, 23-year-old linebacker Cody Barton, who himself was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round.
Had Jackson Barton stayed with Indianapolis, his season would be over now. But that wasn’t the case.
He trained with the Colts through the offseason and training camp, then was waived during final cuts, when NFL teams must trim their regular-season active rosters to 53 players. One day later, Barton signed to the Indianapolis practice squad. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Barton was making $20,000 per week on the Colts practice squad.
Fork in the road
Then, in mid-November, Barton’s NFL trajectory changed. Kansas City came calling after Chiefs offensive tackle Martinas Rankin was put on injured reserve. Per NFL rules, Barton couldn’t just move from one team’s practice squad to another. The Chiefs would have to sign him to their active roster.
“It’s a quick turnaround decision. You’ve got to weigh your different options with it,” Barton said of signing with Kansas City. “But at the end of the day, I’m very happy with the decision I made. This is a great team, guys are very close here.”
Barton was quick to share his appreciation for the team that drafted him.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity I had with the Indianapolis Colts. I speak nothing but good about that program,” he said. “At the same time, I’m grateful for the opportunity I have with the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s been a crazy transition but everybody’s been good. People are very kind and welcoming.”
While Barton is an active-roster player in Kansas City and is listed as the team’s backup right tackle behind veteran Mitchell Schwartz, he’s been inactive for every game since joining the organization, including the Chiefs’ two previous playoff games. The same is expected for Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Barton, though, embraces the opportunity to learn while staying on the sidelines for the time being.
“When I first got here, I was leaning on all the older guys (for help), and even the younger guys who were here before me, because it’s a new system you’ve got to come in and learn, start at square one. It’s a very good room of offensive line guys,” Barton said.
Help from his brothers
The 302-pound native of Salt Lake City has some help, too, in the form of encouragement from others who are going through transitionary times themselves.
One is his brother, who became a regular contributor in Seattle as a rookie.
“We try to stay in contact whenever we can,” Barton said, noting the time difference between the two brothers made it difficult at first. “We enjoy listening to each other’s experiences: what we did throughout the day, how we’re doing, making sure we’re all good and checking up on each other. At the end of the day, we’re still family and we love each other very much and we’re always going to be concerned about the other.”
An injury to fellow linebacker Mychal Kendricks late in the year thrust Cody Barton into the Seahawks’ starting lineup, including for a pair of playoff games. He finished the regular season with 23 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass deflection. In Seattle’s playoff win over Philadelphia, Cody Barton made his first pro sack and had five tackles and two pass deflections.
“I was very proud as his older brother watching him play in those last games. I had the opportunity to watch every one of the games he started,” Jackson Barton said.
The rookie offensive lineman had another familiar face waiting for him in Kansas City: former Utes teammate Alex Whittingham is in his second year as an assistant on head coach Andy Reid’s staff. Barton and Whittingham are also Brighton High alums, though they didn’t play together in high school.
“To have Jackson here, it’s been a fun experience to see him out in practice. Just recently he and I were out on the practice field going against each other. That was fun,” said Whittingham, the Chiefs’ defensive quality control coach. “It’s awesome being down here representing Brighton High School, very proud to be a Bengal. And Utah obviously, being one of the Utah guys down here.”
That relationship between former teammates is one Barton appreciates having in Kansas City.
“It’s always nice having someone you’ve got to share past experiences with, somebody that can help you through it, because he’s been here longer than I have,” Barton said. “We talk about our past experiences at college all the time.”
Another familiar face in Miami will be Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, who is bringing the Whittingham clan with him.
“I got to see Coach Whitt a little bit at the Houston game when we played them in the first round of the playoffs. I didn’t get much chance to talk to him because it was literally during warmups. It’s going to be nice when they roll in and get to sit down and just talk to him a little bit,” Barton said.