The speed was never a problem for McCalister. It’s what attracted the Florida coaches to him and what made him an ideal candidate to be a speed rusher after a few years on the bench.
He came to Florida at 206 pounds, but his 6-6 frame made him an intriguing prospect. College coaches watched his film, saw him in person and were always left with thoughts of what could be if McCalister was able to add some weight.
He came to Gainesville knowing that weight needed to come, but until it did, he still needed reps to get comfortable with his pass-rushing role of the future. That didn’t end up being as easy as expected.
Whenever an offensive lineman, especially one over 300 pounds, got his hands on McCalister, the battle was over. He didn’t have the strength to free himself. The speed was fine off the edge, but any time an offensive lineman got even one hand on him, it served as a reminder for how much he needed to add weight.
So he started to eat everything in sight.
Pizza was the go-to food, but he didn’t discriminate against anything edible. Late nights were spent by himself eating as many pizza slices as he possibly could.
“When I was really trying to put on pounds, Domino’s and Papa John’s were my two best friends,” McCalister said. “I’d eat two whole pies right before I’d go to sleep. I’d wake up and be like six pounds heavier.”
Heading into his redshirt sophomore season, McCalister weighed in at 248 pounds on Sunday. The coaches want him at 250-255 pounds during the fall. He has added a few pounds since spring practice but played then mostly in the low 240s.
The added weight helped him have a great spring. It gave McCalister the confidence to know he can compete in the Southeastern Conference and be an important piece of the Florida defensive line.
“Having that spring, it was a really big, good spring for me,” McCalister said. “I could tell the difference from being 220 to 240 that whole spring. I’m still feeling faster and making plays. It was a lot of fun.
“It helps not being so light against an offensive tackle. I’m coming out and able to hold the point. All that weight plays a big part in that.”
The Gators know who their best pass rusher will be. Dante Fowler, Jr. heads into his junior year with NFL aspirations and expected to have a monster season. Opposing teams will know this, too, and the pass protection should shift all eyes on Fowler.
That could open some intriguing chances for other defensive linemen on the Florida roster.
“They’re going to double team my boy over there, so I get to be on the backside killing,” McCalister said. “It’s going to be fun to fly around like that. You could see it in the spring game. I can’t wait to transfer it into the season.”
His teammates have seen the improvement over the last year, too. McCalister came to campus as a project who needed more weight, and he could turn into an important piece of the team this fall.
“He was a basketball player when he got here, so he has gained his weight and took it serious gaining weight,” Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said. “He knew that he had to do it to play. He put his mind to it, and I’m expecting big things from him.”