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Randy Aldridge
Brighton High sophomore Jackson Barton was a dominant force for the Bengals last season and has already verbally committed to play his college football for the University of Utah.

SANDY — If Paul and Mikki Barton had offered publicly traded family athletic stock when they began having children, wouldn't you have bought a few hundred shares?

Paul Barton, who is 6-foot-6, was a quarterback and pitcher at the University of Utah, eventually spending a year in the minor leagues for the Toronto Blue Jays. He might be only the second-best athlete in the marriage. His wife, Mikki Kane-Barton, who is 6 feet, was a two-sport star at Utah — Player of the Year in the Western Athletic Conference and a two-time honorable mention All-American in basketball; all-conference in volleyball and the national leader in blocks.

Their union produced four children. The oldest child is Jackson, a 6-foot-6 1/2, 275-pound offensive tackle at Brighton High. After just one year of varsity play, he was offered scholarships by Utah State, Utah and Michigan, with more sure to follow. He has been visited by coaches from BYU and Stanford.

According to one Utah assistant, head coach Kyle Whittingham watched only "10 or 12 plays" of Jackson on video and then shut it off. After pausing for a few seconds, he asked a couple of questions and that was that. He met with Barton minutes before the start of the UCLA game and offered him a scholarship.

"They think if he keeps progressing, he'll be a high school All-American," says Brighton coach Ryan Bullet.

All this fuss is over a 16-year-old sophomore.

"I didn't think it would come so soon," says Jackson.

Division I coaches are asking him to make a verbal commitment to sign a letter of intent next year (NCAA rules forbid recruits from signing letters until they are juniors). Barton gave a verbal commitment to Whittingham (the NCAA also forbids coaches from commenting on recruits, the NCAA having been granted the power to suspend free speech).

"I would like to stay close to home," says Jackson, who grew up attending Ute games with his parents. "Plus, my parents went there."

Bullet, who was Paul's teammate on the Utah football team, doesn't think the verbal commitment will stop the parade of visitors to Brighton. "I'll bet there are still 50 schools who come through here anyway," he says. Michigan pulled the young Barton out of basketball practice to offer him a scholarship. Stanford invited him to its spring camp (the Bartons plan to visit the campus during a trip to the Coast this spring).

The early interest has taken the Bartons by surprise. One day Jackson came home and told Mikki that a coach had stopped by the school and offered him a scholarship — four days earlier. He had forgotten to mention it. Then one day he reported that Michigan had offered him a scholarship.

"Are you sure?" his father asked, incredulously.

"Dad, they said we want to offer you a scholarship."

"It's interesting how all this stuff is happening so fast," says Paul.

Jackson's combination of size, footwork and athleticism make him a valued commodity for college coaches. So does his 3.98 grade point average.

It is fairly rare, but not unheard of, for coaches to offer scholarships to players so young. BYU has received verbal commitments from at least nine sophomores since 2003, according to Deseret News recruiting specialist Brandon Gurney. A few years ago, Nate Fakahafua, a Utah freshman last season, made a verbal commitment to the Utes when he was a sophomore at Highland High.

From the start, Paul and Mikki made sports the centerpiece of their family life. Mikki, a coach's daughter who grew up in an Idaho Falls gym, articulates it this way: "If you're in this house you're going to play sports. I hope you love it."

When Jackson failed to make the little league "A team" in fifth grade, Paul began a training program for him. Each morning they awakened early to perform a regimen of pushups, situps and jump rope. Since seventh grade, Jackson and his brother Cody have joined Paul in a more intense program.

Four days a week, they arise at 5 a.m. and go to the gym for an hour of weight training. After a big breakfast, they go to school with a mandate from their father to eat between each class and to eat two lunches. Each night, Paul prepares bags of snacks for the boys to carry in their pockets during the school day — fruit, granola, nuts, protein bars, sandwiches, chocolate-covered pretzels. Jackson, who plays on the sophomore, JV and varsity basketball teams, eats between each game, as well.

"The nutrition program is to keep moving forward on gaining weight and muscle," says Paul.

"Eating is the hard part of the program," says Mikki. "They eat so much food. It's like 7,000 calories a day for Jackson. He and Cody are gaining weight, but in a healthy way."

It appears to be working. At the outset of his freshman year, Jackson was 6-1, 205 pounds. A year later, he showed up for practice at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds. He finished the football season at 260. He's now closing in on 6-foot-7 and weighs close to 275. At this rate, he'll catch up with his size 17 feet. And yet Jackson is remarkably slender, with broad shoulders, narrow hips and a tapered waist. He has no lineman's gut. His strength has grown with his size. He bench presses 285 pounds and squats 410 — impressive numbers for a long-limbed, 16-year-old.

"And he's still not shaving," Paul notes. "He's not a fully mature guy yet."

(Cody, a freshman, is 5-foot-9, but sports a size 13 foot. "It's going to happen — he's going to grow," says Bullet.)

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"At first I thought it was crazy," says Mikki of her boys' training regimen. "How many 14- and 15-year-olds get up at 5 and don't complain? But now that I've seen the benefits of it, I've seen a lot of discipline. They follow Paul's direction. It's like, if we're going to play all these sports, let's do it right. They're good athletes, but they're not the most gifted. They have to work hard to get there."

Like her husband, Mikki marvels at the early interest from college coaches. "I've been surprised at the whole thing. It seemed very young. It's exciting, but I also remind Jackson he's a sophomore and a long way from being ready to play in college. Enjoy it, but remember they're looking at your potential. I like to tell him, 'Don't flat-line on me.'"

Email: drob@desnews.com