Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Early playing time paying off for CeCe Jefferson and Gators

He’s expected to have a big year for the Florida Gators and they need him to. With three of his line mates from a year ago likely lining up for NFL teams in 2017, defensive end CeCe Jefferson will have to step up his game even more than he has. He expects it after showing some big things in his first two years on campus.

CeCe Jefferson got to play as a true freshman at Florida where he showed up as a former high school All-American and five-star prospect. Although Chris Rumph wasn’t here as the defensive line coach when he actually signed on the dotted line, Rumph is the only coach he has played for at Florida and he believes that he benefited greatly from a guy that is willing to play young guys on the line to not only spell the starters, but also work on their development.

While most five-stars come in expecting to play a lot as freshmen, Jefferson had a bit of a different mindset. He had shoulder surgery that ended his senior season early. The rehab went great, but he wasn’t really in the best of shape because of it. However, he actually got on the field a lot more than he expected to as a true freshman.

“I did, I missed my entire senior year of high school coming in with a shoulder surgery,” he said when asked if he played more than he thought he would that early. “So you know I came in kind of iffy. But, I had great guys Jon Bullard, Caleb Brantley, (Bryan) Cox, Alex McCalister… all those guys You know they stuck with me every day through camp when I got here and just made sure I was doing everything the right way and making the right reads. It definitely surprised me to be thrown in as much as I was, but I’m just thankful that I came here and that (Rumph) trust me enough to throw me in, and hey, we’re here now.”

He’s that benefit working well for the line in 2017. Khairi Clark and Taven Bryan are the current starters at defensive tackle and both guys have seen plenty of playing time in the last two years. There are just more examples of the way Rumph does things and now that is going to pay off as they have to replace NFL talents Joey Ivie and Caleb Brantley.

“It’s very helpful,” he said of Rumph playing so many guys. “Its’s great for the young guys to have experience so when the older guys come out, they can come in and don’t miss a beat. For him to show, ‘I’m going to trust you enough to throw you in the fire’. That lets them know his trust level is there for them and I think that builds their confidence and trust level for them. It kind of goes hand in hand and it becomes something we can work with and it’s just better for everybody in the end. Coach Rumph is a player’s coach, he loves his players, and he wants what’s best for them. By throwing in the fire early I think it opens their eyes to show them he’s there for them.”

Jefferson says he is down 25 pounds to 275 now and he’s playing mostly outside at defensive end. He was pushed at defensive tackle a year ago, but his production seemed to go down. He moved back to end sometime in the middle of the season and that production started to climb again. He’s happy to be outside, but is a guy willing to do what it takes to win.

“I like the pass rush, you know I like the set edges. It’s been a good deal so far,” he said of this spring. “To be honest, I feel more comfortable either or. But how my body is right now I think it’s best for me to stay out. Pass rushing is fun, setting the edge is fun and I just enjoy it. I’m willing to do whatever to make this team better.”

He says he is enjoying the weight where he is at, but would like to get up to 265 pounds the right way. He likes being able to move quicker and oh yeah, look better.

“I lost about 25 pounds,” he said. “My belly used to hang over my jersey. I couldn’t be on TV looking all fat. I definitely made a transition with my body and I feel better, but I want to add a few more pounds, get some more muscle, and just get ready for this season.”

Still, he knows he will be asked to play inside some, especially on passing downs. If so, he’s all in.

“That makes me more valuable,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind going from end getting a sack to going to 3 getting a sack. Definitely something I wouldn’t mind doing. If coach needs it, this team needs it, then I’m willing to do it.”

Jefferson is now one of the old guys on the block. The true junior has played a loft of football in his first two years, so he is going to have to be a leader of this group. He says he will let his play do his talking for his teammates.

“I’m kind of a lead by example type of guy,” he said when asked about a leadership role. “I’m not the ‘rah-rah’ guy that’s going to try to get everybody pumped up. I’m going to try to lead by my actions and play. That’ll definitely be my leadership role going into this season.”

He likes the guys on the unit. They are big and athletic and he says most of all they bring their lunch pail to the football field.

“I know we’re going to be hard working and we’re going to be dedicated and we’re going to be coachable,” he said. “We’re just going to do our jobs. I can’t speak for how the first game is going to go, we’re just going to have to wait until that comes, but right now those things will pretty much explain this defensive line. We’re going to be smart and just take things slowly and just like I said do our job before we try to do anything else.”

Young guys stepping up…

While Rumph does play a lot of people, there have been quite a few defensive linemen brought in over the last couple of years so some didn’t get quite as much time on the field. Jefferson says that sophomores Jachai Polite and Antonneous Clayton along with redshirt freshman Jordan Smith are going to make big strides in 2017.

“Definitely Jachai, Antonneous, and Jordan Smith,” he said as guys to watch for. “I watched those guys come in and make that transition, understand what work is all about and what we’re trying to get. They come out every day… if they’re with the ones and I’m with the twos or I’m with the ones and they’re with the twos, I know they’re down there working trying to take my spot and me trying to take their spot. You know that’s definitely a great thing because I just look down and they make me bring it every day and look better. Those guys have definitely stepped up and rose to the occasion.”

He had a bit to say about Antonneous Clayton when asked.

“Woo. He’s put on some weight,” he said. “I’ve seen that guy from the time he got here. He’s just been dedicated to putting on weight. That’s something that he wanted to do. You can definitely see a change for the better for him. Of course he’s going to turn heads this year.”

“He’s going to turn heads this year… He’s a high energy guy. he’s going to get off the ball. I know he can come in and do some damage.”

One of his good friends is redshirt sophomore Luke Ancrum.  The two arrived on campus at the same time in 2015 and Ancrum has transformed from a defensive end to a defensive tackle. He’s looking more the part now and CeCe knows he is going to make a difference in 2017.

“Luke is another one, man,” he said. “We came in together and I’ve just watched that guy get better day by day. He’s in the film room every day. He’s meeting with Coach Rumph trying to get better. It’s just showing on the practice field and on film. But I’m proud of Luke. He was my roommate when we first got here. We sat and talked about when his time would come. But I’m proud of him because he’s out on the field executing. Everything he’s worked for is coming his way, so hats off to him. I love him, man.”

There is a new kid on the block this spring. Freshman Kyree Campbell enrolled in January and is a big body defensive tackle that will be pushed into playing this year. Jefferson says he knows when the time comes, he’ll be ready.   

“He’s a big dude,” Jefferson said of Campbell. “It’s going to take him some time, because he’s still fresh. It’s going to take him some time to get it together. But when he does, he’s going to be a name to remember. It’s just a joy watching him come in, just taking it day by day, progressing, and trying to get better, because I was once in those shoes. I had the older guys watching me, helping me. He’s a coachable guy. He doesn’t turn down any help. He’s a great guy and I think he’s going to be great.”

Practice battles with Ivey…

Martez Ivey got moved to the left tackle this spring and so Jefferson and Ivey are squaring off quite a bit. Jefferson says he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Oh man, he’s the best, he’s the best,” he said of Ivey. “Going against him every day and every rep, I know I’m guaranteed to get his best and he’s guaranteed to get my best. So, I’m just going out to make him better and he’s coming out to make me better. It’s definitely tough, definitely tough.”

“He’s coming to kill you every day, and I’m coming to do the same to him. So I know the competition level is going to be there, I know that he’s trying to get the best out of me and I’m trying to get the best out of him. You know along with those other guys, I can tell the intensity changed from last year’s O-line to this year’s O-line. They come out every day with that attitude and that mindset that we’re here to do our job and there’s nobody that can get in our way. Hats off to those guys for making that change for the benefit of this team.”

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