There was a lot expected of CeCe Jefferson coming out of high school. The dramatic finish to his recruitment, where he didn’t sign a letter of intent with Florida for a week or so following signing day, only added the fanfare of his courtship by the Gators and every other big time program in the South.
And yet, nobody knew exactly what to expect out of Jefferson after graduation because of a shoulder injury that saw him miss all but three games during his senior season.
Jefferson set his mind to getting on the field early at Florida and once he did that, the injury was nothing for him to overcome.
Where is the strength at, you were benching like 500 out of high school?
"I played three games my senior year and then my shoulder surgery happened,” he told the Florida media late last week. “From that point until I enrolled in college I was just work, work, work. I think that definitely helped me prepare for college."
He did put on some pounds while he couldn’t work out a bit. He showed up in Gainesville around the 285 pound range. As a defensive end, that wasn’t going to cut the mustard, so he started working that off as well.
"About 30 pounds,” he said when asked how much he initially lost since signing day and he was able to start working out. “Yeah, I was a juicy little kid. I definitely lost a lot of fat.”
Now he’s up about 10 pounds from that low water mark and coming in around 265. He plans on adding more bulk, but in a good way so that he can play on the interior a little easier. It is a place where the team needs him most. The team has him on a diet regimen that should help put the weight on the right way.
“I am trying to build it up with muscle and start looking like Jonathan Bullard around here,” he said.
"I’m definitely going to gain some more weight. Our nutritionist, she has me on this nutrition plan and it’s helping me out. But the way we practice, I have no choice but to lose 5-6 pounds per practice because we are so fast paced and everything. But she’s getting me right."
When asked to make the move to the interior, Jefferson was all in.
"I actually play end and defensive tackle depending on what personnel we’re in,” he said. “But, it’s something the team needed and something I didn’t mind doing. You know sometimes you have to make sacrifices and I love these guys enough make that sacrifice."
There has been some high praise for Jefferson and his transition inside so far from head coach Jim McElwain. Jefferson says he has enjoyed learning from the others what to do.
"I feel like my camp has been going pretty well so far,” he said. “I’ve definitely been taking a lot of notes from Caleb Brantley, Taven Bryan and Joey Ivie. I feel like this has been my best camp since I‘ve been here. The double teams can be tough sometimes, but I feel like it’s easier than the outside. I feel like I’m quicker than most guards, so I have that advantage over them pass rush wise. The way our linebackers play, once I get that double team I don’t have to hold it long because Jarrad Davis is flying through the hole to try and kill somebody. I know one of the two guys will come off of me to get him. That definitely makes my job easier."
Nobody said it would be easy.
“I would say the most challenging aspect is the double teams,” he said. “The double teams, man. You know, that’s 300 pounds, 300 pounds coming down on you, you know what I’m saying? And it ain’t fun. It ain’t fun. That is probably the most challenging thing for me. I feel like I’ve come a long way to read the blocks better.”
He appreciates all the tutelage he has received and still gets, it helps him fight through the tough job he has now.
“I’ve definitely embraced it, because I get up, I get to watch the best,” he said. “I got to watch the best last year and I get to watch the best this year, first-hand. So that definitely makes it a lot easier for me watching those guys.”
His experience helping mentor others…
As much as he is learning a new position, he has had the experience of playing quite a bit as a freshman. The Gators will be relying on freshmen up front this year to provide some depth. He can help them make that adjustment through his own experiences.
“The game was a little bit faster,” Jefferson answered when asked about the transition from high school ball. “Like I mentioned, I hadn’t played since my third game (of his senior year) so I didn’t know what to expect. So that was definitely it, not knowing what to expect and the game speed.
“I played a lot last year. Most of the plays I was thinking about my assignment, what I can do and what I can’t do. But now I know the defense inside and out and I just feel more comfortable in what I have to do and what I can and can’t do.”
The struggle is part of the game for the young guys, but he says the group the Gators have now keeps getting after it to try and improve.
“They’re all going to struggle,” Jefferson said. “But what I like about those guys, they’ll struggle, you know most freshmen once they make a mistake they’re going to hang their head because they feel they don’t have time to make a mistake. They feel their time is precious. They have to do everything right so they can show coach, ‘even though I’m a freshman I’m going to prove to you I’m ready’. These freshmen they’ll make a mistake and just play the next play. They don’t worry about anything. They don’t hang their head or anything. Myself and the older guys we’ll notice the mistake and we’ll just wait for them to come to the sideline and get in their ear about it. Next time they’re out, it’s fixed and we just move on from there.”
Keivonnis Davis saw the field in just the last three games a year ago as a true freshman. In a pinch because of injuries, the staff pulled his redshirt and played him. Jabari Zuniga redshirted a year ago. Both have been doing great this fall.
“I see both of those guys breaking out,” Jefferson said. “Jabari he’s the silent assassin. He’s that guy. He’s not going to say too much. He’s just going to walk around like ‘What’s up, bro?’ give you a little what’s up and go on about his business. He’s a quiet killer, but once he gets on that field, it’s over. I like that guy to break out this year. And you know it starts from the meeting rooms to practice and the weight room, man. It’s contagious, man, and it gets everybody fired up and ready to go.”
Expectations growing for the defensive line…
When you lose your two most formidable pass rushers in Bullard and defensive end Alex McCalister, you expect to take a small step backward. However, there is a growing thought that this 2016 defensive line can be really good, of not as good as a year ago. That would be just what the doctor ordered.
SEC NETWORK analyst Booger McFarland said on a network show a couple of weeks ago that the Florida defensive line will be the best in the SEC in 2016. The former All-American and All-Pro defensive end knows a little something about play in the trenches.
“Shout out to Booger McFarland,” Jefferson said with a smile on his face. “He’s a smart guy.”
“We definitely have a talented group. It starts from the older guys down to the younger guys. The younger guys are the ones I’m most impressed with. It’s expected from the older guys to be dominant. But the way these younger guys came in and (snapping his finger) just picked up on things so fast – the way they just fly around and play without thinking, man, that’s impressive too because we need everybody. If everybody in that room is ready to play, and we can get that rotation going, that’s a scary thing. Because everybody in that room has the talent to make an impact immediately and just dominate.”
If the young guys can play like the guy that used to be a ‘juicy little kid’, this defense will be really fun to watch.