Utah's Jackson Barton extends family's legacy

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SALT LAKE CITY — At first glance, the 6-foot-7, 312-pound offensive lineman looks like a bruiser, but Jackson Barton makes anyone feel as if they’ve known him for years upon meeting him.

Barton is a proud Utahn who listens to Kelly Clarkson before every game and jokes with teammates as they work out for hours in blistering heat. He’s all smiles and exhales joy as the University of Utah football team wraps up its day of work.

The junior enjoys every moment he has on Utah’s roster. He’s always wanted to be a Ute, keeping his family’s legacy alive. His dad, Paul, played baseball and football for the Utes. His mom, Mikki, was a Utah basketball and volleyball player. Barton’s sister, Dani, currently plays volleyball for the school and his brother, Cody, is his teammate as a linebacker for the football team.

But it was his uncle, Mark, who Barton looked up to the most as an athlete.

“I modeled my game after him,” said Barton of his uncle who was an offensive lineman for the Utes from 1990-93. “He’s helped me the most at offensive line.”

Barton wears No. 70, the same number his uncle wore during his tenure at the university.

Barton came to the U. from Brighton High School — a mere 20 minutes south from campus — as a four-star recruit who was nationally ranked seventh at his position. He was ranked 2013’s best offensive lineman in Utah and participated in the U.S. Army All-American Combine.

“Head coach Kyle Whittingham’s philosophy is we always look at the in-state guys first,” said assistant head coach Jim Harding, who oversees the offensive line. “Without a doubt, it’s important to take care of the in-state recruiting first.

“Offensive line-wise we want to try to get every one of those top offensive linemen in the state, then we go from there. Once people get here, we’re always going to play the best five guys — whether that’s two or three local guys, or none,” added Harding.

Barton is currently fighting for the starting spot at left tackle, a hole Garett Bolles left when he entered the NFL draft earlier this year. Following the 20th overall pick can be daunting, but Barton isn’t letting the pressure get to him. He came out of spring ball as the leading candidate and is holding to the reins during fall camp. He’s focused on taking control of the opportunity and helping the team “be the best it can be.”

“It’s all for the team, but there’s a point when you have to become selfish,” Barton said. “My mentality is ‘it has to be my spot.’ I have to do what I can to help the team this year. I’m going to take leadership of that role.”

“Jackson has done a nice job solidifying the left tackle spot. Obviously, there are some things he needs to work on, but overall, he’s done a nice job,” Harding said.

Barton has game-time experience, which he views as a chance to provide leadership to a less-experienced unit that lost four starters from last year. He played in 13 games last season on special teams and six on the offensive line with two starts. In 2015, he appeared on special teams in every game and 11 games at left tackle, totaling 208 plays in the nine games that offensive line stats were kept.

“The biggest thing I can bring to the offensive line this year is leadership. There are a lot of new guys. Obviously, I didn’t start a lot last season but I played quite a bit,” Barton said.

The 6-foot-7 athlete stands as the tallest on Utah's roster. While he said it’s “good to see over the guys to get the plays,” Barton admits his height has its drawbacks.

“I have to work my butt off to stay low. I have to work that much harder to compete with these guys,” he said.

Harding added that the biggest asset to Barton’s height is his wingspan.

“That helps with any lineman — the longer the wingspan, the more advantage they have,” Harding said.

With a few weeks before Utah’s season-opener, Barton continues to work hard to earn a starting spot. But no matter what happens, he’s grateful for what the team has given him ― the chance to keep his family’s legacy alive and play for his favorite team.

“This is a dream come true,” Barton said. “I love the fan support and represent the good state of Utah.”

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