He found five different plays that should have been sacks last season. Instead, he ended his redshirt freshman year still searching for his first collegiate sack.
Brantley can run through the plays in his head. They’ve haunted him since last year came to a close. He missed a sack in the first game of the season because he tripped in the backfield. Other sacks were missed because he didn’t finish the tackle. Every sack had a different reason for slipping through his hands.
“It’s on me,” Caleb Brantley said. “I felt like it’s earned in the offseason with extra reps and stuff like that. That just wasn’t something I was good at last year. It’s motivation and knowing what I’m capable of and what I have to work towards.”
That work ethic improved this offseason with a simple look at the depth chart. Florida lost Darious Cummings, Leon Orr and Gerald Willis after last season, a trio that took reps at defensive tackle. Cummings started 10 games and Orr started two games before leaving the team before the game at Vanderbilt.
Brantley saw those open spots as a challenge, claiming they made him work “100 times harder” this offseason. If the Florida defensive line was going to continue its strong play, he knew that he had to play an important part in it.
“That definitely has a major impact,” Brantley said. “There’s no more ‘I have guys in front of me.’ The time is now. There’s no more waiting. Do what you’ve got to do or you get passed up. It’s my time.”
When Brantley was going through the recruiting process as a senior at Crescent City High School, he envisioned the breakout season coming as a true freshman. Instead, the previous coaching staff said he wasn’t ready to play and he was forced to redshirt. Looking back at it now, Brantley understands why the coaching staff thought that was the best way to handle his first year. He didn’t understand it then, however.
He knew the expectations he had for himself as a true freshman and friends and family back home shared those. Redshirting felt like he was disappointing them.
As he prepares for his third season on campus as a redshirt sophomore, Brantley is thankful for that year to get accustomed to college football.
“Now I look back at it, I’m glad I redshirted,” Brantley said. “You have guys that didn’t redshirt but played one or two games. That doesn’t really do you any good. I had a year to get stronger and faster.”
With two years under his belt to add strength and speed, Brantley’s teammates are seeing the changes in his game. Defensive end Alex McCalister picked Brantley as his breakout player on the Florida defense this fall.
“I like him as a young Sharrif Floyd, how he moves his hand and comes off the ball,” McCalister said. “He’s swift and quick. That’s tough to be his size, he’s like 300 pounds, and move like that.
“He gets it. He gets it way more now. He used to get yelled at in practice and he would probably take off a play or two. Now our whole message for the summer, the spring and even going into camp, we’re working on that. Play now, get your assignment now and with his mindset on that. He’s getting better.”