Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley said after Friday’s practice that he will return to Florida for his redshirt junior season in 2016.
“I’m coming back,” Brantley said. “I never thought about leaving. I just felt like I could better myself if I came back next year.”
As a redshirt sophomore this season, Brantley made 28 tackles in 12 games, including 5.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He added two quarterback hurries. Brantley’s return to the roster will benefit the Gators, who lose senior Jonathan Bullard as a dominant run defender in the middle.
At 6-2, 314 pounds, Brantley can plug the middle for the Florida defense. He also showed good burst at times and could turn into a strong player against the pass and the run next season.
When Brantley thought about his decision, he didn’t think long. He knew there was still a long way for him to grow as a player before beginning his NFL career.
“It’s the kind of decision I made myself,” Brantley said. “I didn’t really talk to anybody but obviously my coaches, I talked to my coaches a lot. It wasn’t about the decision of leaving or any of that. It was just about me getting better as a player. I feel like I have to mature more and help the young guys.”
That feeling of responsibility comes from the way Brantley has been developed. While playing over the past two seasons, Bullard took Brantley under his wing. Brantley admits that he wasn’t mature enough when he arrived in Gainesville as a true freshman, but working with Bullard went a long way in changing that. Brantley benefitted from watching how Bullard worked and prepared for games, and that helped him into the mini-breakout season that occurred in 2015.
“He chose to come back and really surprised me,” Brantley said. “He definitely helped himself move into the — I think he moved himself into the first round with a stellar season. I feel like I really haven’t played how I can play yet. I played well, but I know I can do better.”
He’ll have a chance to prove that next fall.