ALAMEDA, Calif. — Good habits seldom are learned easily.
At age 12, Cody Barton formed his.
A bedroom alarm sounded at 5 a.m. He and older brother Jackson trudged downstairs to the family basement in Salt Lake City where their father led a workout circuit lasting about 35 minutes. They jumped rope. They did pushups and situps. They held plank and wall-sit positions while being silently timed. Music played to simulate a gym environment.
“The first few years,” Barton said in a phone interview, “I did not like it.”
The linebacker from Utah is expected to be drafted as early as Friday during the third round or Saturday in the fourth. The Raiders, who don’t own a third-round pick, are one possible destination. Barton epitomizes a prospect whose mental profile fits the franchise’s mold, someone whose love for football is tethered to mental toughness and work ethic. He credits his father for ingraining those qualities.
Last year, Barton led Utah with 116 tackles in his first season as a full-time starter. He received the Pat Tillman Award in January at the East-West Shrine Game for demonstrating intelligence, service and sportsmanship. In March, he impressed at the combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds and stacked 30 reps on a 225-pound bench press.
Results require work over time.
Barton, 22, put in both.
Aside from his earliest seasons in youth football, there was little indication Barton would amount to an NFL player. Growing up, peers were bigger and stronger. His growth spurts arrived late, and he didn’t help himself with nutrition. As a child, his diet consisted of Go-Gurt, Life cereal, butter sandwiches — that’s butter and white bread — and Eggo waffles.
At one point, his mom sought advice.
“She’s like, ‘I can’t get him to eat anything else,’ ” said Paul Barton, Barton’s father. “The pediatrician said, ‘You don’t need to worry about it. Do you know any grown-ups who only eat Go-Gurts and Life cereal? … He’ll be fine.’”
Paul and wife Mikki Kane-Barton were athletes at Utah.
He played football and baseball. She starred in basketball and volleyball, being inducted into Utah’s Crimson Club Hall of Fame in 2003. Paul is 6 feet, 6 inches. Mikki is 6 foot. They have three sons and one daughter. When the two oldest sons were in middle school, Paul decided to initiate a workout and nutrition plan.
Jackson Barton, also in this draft class as a former Utah offensive tackle, had made the Little League “B” team instead of “A.”
Paul wanted to prepare his sons for athletics and life, and he hoped they’d earn college football scholarships.
“My friends said I was crazy doing it,” Paul said. “I had a program I wanted to do. I wanted not to talk about it. I just wanted to do it. You know what I mean? I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s not an experiment. My whole thing was to make them overall country-boy strong, mentally strong. … It was a very small time commitment they had to do to try to get better. It was a lifestyle commitment, too, with the food, but it wasn’t, ‘You can’t eat cheeseburgers. You can’t eat candy.’ It was normal stuff, and I tried to instill in them, ‘This is your work to do now, and the rest of the day is yours.’”
So, many mornings started at 5.
The two brothers woke themselves up. In the basement, Paul looked to tax them mentally more than physically. On a set, it was always reps of 10. He playfully toyed with them. For example, on a wall sit, they squatted against a wall for one minute while holding a small weight with outstretched arms. Paul might tap their arms. Or, while keeping time, more than a minute would pass, but he made them keep holding.
It was important to Paul they didn’t quit.
Afterward, he prepared a protein smoothie with spinach and fruit inside it. He packed them snacks, such as protein bars, trail mix and fruit, to eat between school periods.
“It taught me self-accountability and discipline,” said Barton, a team captain in 2018. “Now, if I sleep in on any day, I feel unproductive. I like getting up early because I feel when I get up early and work out and do something, it gets my day started on the right foot. It gets me going for the day. The hardest part, even to this day, is just literally getting your head off the pillow. But once you’re up, you’re up. That’s all you’ve got to do mentally is just be tough enough to get up.”
Cody and Jackson were taught other pillars.
There is always someone out there working harder. Do more. If you’re a backup doing the same as a starter, the starter will improve at the same rate, and you’ll remain static. When doing extra work, don’t go alone. Bring teammates with you.
Both sons earned scholarships at Utah.
There, Cody Barton switched from safety to linebacker. He worked to earn playing time. He’d ask the strength and conditioning staff what the workout schedule was for the summer. Upon learning which day was what body group, he’d jot onto a note card the workouts he’d do when the required ones were finished. Some teammates joined him.
Barton studied opponents in a similar fashion
He watched game film with teammates. Then he’d go home and watch more.
“He shows up the next day,” said ex-Utah linebacker Chase Hansen, “and he’s like, ‘Hey, I watched a bunch of film. Here’s what I found on UCLA. Here’s a tendency they have. Here’s where we can make plays.’ … He’s just obsessed, which in my mind is his best trait as a football player. It’s 24/7.”
It started at 5 a.m.