Viewed as a liability as his college career unfolded, Ute linebacker Cody Barton is getting the ending right

Senior co-captain, a member of Utah’s famous athletic family, is becoming a star.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah's Cody Barton has developed into a star as a senior linebacker in Utah's football program.

After all of Utah linebacker Cody Barton’s offseason work, his brother made the family’s first solo tackle of the season. This development was unexpected. Jackson Barton is an offensive lineman.

One of them somehow found another way to top the other, just like the childhood years when they would compete in everything, even seeing who could wash dishes faster.

Ever since that Weber State interception return in the first quarter, though, the Barton brothers from Brighton High School have performed their traditional roles for the Utes this season. Cody Barton is making plays all over the field, racking up tackles and maximizing his athletic ability as a senior co-captain.

This is how it is supposed to work in a college football program, as players develop. Outside expectations tend to come with a different timetable, and fans generally viewed Barton as a liability when he became a starting linebacker as a sophomore. Coaches, too, had their doubts, moving him in and out of the lineup.

But look at him now. Barton has made 23 solo or assisted tackles against Northern Illinois and Washington in the last two games. His remarkable interception of UW quarterback Jake Browning was taken away by a teammate’s roughing-the-passer penalty, but the play was another sign that Barton is joining Chase Hansen in one of the Pac-12′s best linebacking tandems.

Utah's alignment, employing only two linebackers, helps makes that statement possible. So does Barton's improvement over four years in the program.

Ute coach Kyle Whittingham labeled him a “a self-made guy.” While acknowledging some help within and outside of the program, Barton likes that description.

“I've been blessed with athletic ability, but that can only get you so far sometimes,” he said. “I worked my ass off the last four years to get where I'm at. There's been ups and downs in this whole thing, but that's just part of life. … It's not all sunshine and rainbows throughout your whole career.”

Barton started parts of the past two years, with an injury ending his sophomore season. As a junior, he made 45 tackles in 13 games. Barton already has been involved in 26 tackles (12 solo) this season.

It would have made a good story if Barton's interception of Browning had stood. His father, Paul, grew up in southern California, playing youth football with Browning's father (and former Ute defensive back LaVon Edwards). Trailing 14-7 in the third quarter, the Utes also could have used the turnover, instead of having the penalty extend Washington's touchdown drive.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes linebacker Cody Barton (30) sacks Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Tanner Mangum (12) as BYU hosts Utah, NCAA football in Provo, Saturday September 9, 2017.

Yet Barton’s coverage of running back Myles Gaskins along the sideline, 30 yards downfield, showed how far he has come. “Cody covered it perfectly,” Whittingham said. “It’s a shame it didn’t count, but he played that exactly how he’s coached to do it, and he’s athletic enough to do it. … One of the essences of coaching is giving your players things they can physically do and then demand they do them — and hope they do them.”

Barton is doing them, after a a summer when senior offensive lineman Lo Falemaka identified him as the star of the Utes' conditioning program and player-run practices.

How does Whittingham measure a player's growth? By weight, as one calculation. So do big brothers. “Oh, he was a shrimp,” said Jackson Barton, who's 6-foot-7, 313 pounds.

Whittingham remembers the 6-2 Cody Barton as “undersized” at about 195 pounds when he arrived on campus a year after his brother (Jackson redshirted as a freshman, explaining why they're in the same class). He weighs 230 now, with an offseason effort level that makes teammates ask why he never gets tired.

The work ethic stems from his father's direction. Paul Barton, a former Ute football and baseball player, “always taught me to do a little more than anyone else,” Barton said.

Mikki Barton, a Ute women's basketball and volleyball star, wants her children to stay grounded. Cody remembered that influence when asked to describe his would-be interception. “I think it showed good athleticism and ball-tracking skills,” he said, seemingly wishing he could say more.

Anyone who has followed the Utes these past four seasons knows the Barton family history. But some readers may be new to the program. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan met Ute volleyball player Dani Drews and only later discovered she was a Barton sister, having recently married former Ute linebacker Christian Drews.

Jackson Barton said the brothers learned about the relationship a couple of months after the two started dating. But they certainly approved of their sister's match with “our best friend,” he said, “instead of, like, some random schmuck. So everything works out.”

Kind of like Cody Barton’s college football career, as the ending takes shape.


When • Saturday, 4 p.m. MDT

TV • Pac-12 Networks