The Florida Gators have proudly touted itself as DBU (defensive back university) thanks to a long line of talented defensive backs over the years. However, more recently, the Gators have had a string of defensive lineman come through The Swamp, including three first round draft picks since 2013.
The Gators defensive line looks to be one of the deeper units on the team with veterans like Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Bryan Cox Jr. and Jordan Sherit. In an effort to gain more flexibility, sophomore CeCe Jefferson took reps at defensive tackle during fall camp and that allowed sophomore Keivonnis Davis and redshirt freshman Jabari Zuniga to shine as a rush ends. There is still room for another to step up and earn playing time, and that someone just arrived on campus. Last week.
Antonneous Clayton played at a small 1A school in Vienna, Georgia, where he dominated the competition. Despite posting up double-digit sack numbers as a junior and then again as a senior, Clayton was rated a three-star by most recruiting services. A strong performance during the week of practices leading up to the Under Armour All-American game helped Clayton rise up the rankings
“I had an excellent week of practice,” Clayton told Gator Country after the All-American game.
The learning process has been quick. Clayton didn’t start playing football until he was in the eighth grade. Now, at 6-4, 230 pounds, Clayton shows a rare set of skills that should get him on the field as a freshman. He has elite speed and uses his hands well. His first step off the edge is lightning quick and he has the body control to play with leverage, working his way around offensive tackles in pursuit of the quarterback.
Clayton looked up to former Gator Dante Fowler, and actually had the chance to meet Fowler in the stands at the Florida-Georgia game last year. He also watched what Alex McCalister was able to do last year in limited action and thinks that he can play a similar role as McCalister, a pass-rush specialist.
That role should look similar to how other freshmen linemen have been broken in previously. Fowler played mainly on third downs as a freshman, as too did now sophomore CeCe Jefferson. With Clayton’s ability to rush the quarterback, he can be a valuable asset on passing downs before he catches up with the new speed of the game and earns more playing time.
For now, Clayton joins the rest of his freshmen class going through 5 AM workouts and afternoon lifts. He’s getting ready just like the rest of his teammates, but he has the potential to shine above the rest in 2016.