Lander Barton became one of the five highest-rated high school recruits to ever sign with the Utah football program last offseason. Then, as a freshman, he appeared 14 times, made three starts, finished sixth on the defense in tackles, and took home the Pac-12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year award.

Expectations were high for the 6-foot-4 linebacker from Cottonwood Heights. Barton showed his considerable promise.

The most exciting part for Utah’s coaching staff: he’s only going to get better.

As Utah makes its way through spring, head coach Kyle Whittingham has been impressed by Barton’s progress.

“He’s a tremendous football player, exactly what we hoped he would be when we recruited him,” Whittingham said earlier this week. “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.”

Barton finished the 2022 campaign with 46 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, a pass breakup, and a forced fumble. There were 42 freshmen linebackers who saw at least 50 defensive snaps last season; Barton had one of the five best overall grades from Pro Football Focus among them.

He figures to be a key piece of Utah’s defense during the 2023 campaign.