ATLANTA — Sitting side by side after the starters had been pulled in a 42-7 drubbing at the hands of Georgia Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson shared a look. Behind it was embarrassment and the two said something privately there.
This couldn’t be it.
The next week Jefferson was inconsolable after a 45-16 loss at Missouri.
“I feel like I had a lot to do with losing that game. I take that one personally. That wasn’t my best performance. After that game I cried for so long. My mom was just trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I feel like I was the reason we lost that game.”
That’s the moment that Jefferson decided he needed to come back to Florida.
“After that Missouri game is when I kinda realized like, ‘CeCe yeah you ain’t ready. You need to come back another year. You need to develop more, learn more about football and then we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Jefferson has been a Gator his whole life. He’s had “#UF19” tattooed on his right hand since after his junior year of high school but he admitted on Tuesday at SEC Media Days that he didn’t expect to be at Florida for four years. The No. 2 rated defensive end and a five-star prospect, many expected Jefferson to make a three-year pit stop in Gainesville on the way to the NFL.
His career has been up and down. He was asked to move inside and play defensive tackle a role he didn’t want to embrace but did anyway because as he puts it the defense is full of guys that would jump on a grenade for you. Jefferson did it, playing out of position for a while before going back to end as a junior. Still, he didn’t have the type of season that would have catapulted him up draft boards.
He’ll have that opportunity in Todd Grantham’s defense. Grantham plays an attacking 3-4 defense where Jefferson will play all over the field. It’s the same scheme that Jefferson played in high school, the scheme that allowed him to develop into one of the best defensive ends in his class. He didn’t, however, do any home work on Grantham’s defensive style. Jefferson laughed at reporter’s shock to the answer but he did speak with both Dan Mullen and Grantham before his decision was finalized.
“We want to help you make a decision. We want to help you make a decision for what’s best. We’d love to have you back, but this is how the program’s going to be in the future. I think for all of those guys, the most important thing – you sit down with them and talk about is, if you make a decision, be all in one way or the other. I’m not sure about this. If you want to stay, then I’m all in staying, developing, be the best that I can be. If you want to leave, you better be all in to try to make it to the next level. You have got to figure that out.”
For the most part Jefferson had already figured that out. He has a son who will turn three years old soon. A NFL contract, no matter where he would be drafted, would help provide for his family. He’d also been through a lot at Florida. He committed to Will Muschamp but played under Jim McElwain. Did he want to build relationships with a third coaching staff in four years?
For CeCe it still goes back to that feeling in consecutive weeks against Georgia and at Missouri when they allowed a combined 87 points.
“It was a very tough time because that’s not the Gator standard. We, as a unit, we knew that we had more talent than most of those teams and we could have put on a better display than we did. It was just a disappointing feeling within ourselves,” he said. “To be that team, to drop the ball and not to be a top-10 defense since like 2007, when people think about the University of Florida they think about defense. It was an embarrassing feeling and one that myself and this team doesn’t want to feel again.”
So with everything settled he crafted a short and simple tweet saying he was excited for his senior season. With that it was done and he jumped in whole-heartedly to the new program. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and a reported labrum tear that required surgery. He’s attacking rehab now with the hope but no guarantee that he’ll be ready for his senior season.
It’s been a long road and this isn’t how he’d like to start his last season but the kid they call Carl is taking it all in stride with his trademark smile and laugh.
It’s not about how many times you fall,” he said. It’s about how many times you get up.”