Antonneous Clayton was signed last year as a missile off the edge for a team that is looking for a legit speed rusher off the end. Friday night he showed some a little bit of what he is capable of, even if he had to pull off at the end to make sure not to injure the quarterbacks he was after.
That isn’t easy for a guy like him to do.
“Oh yeah, it’s like basically if you hit the quarterback here, in practice you’re pretty much fried,” he said of the assault the coaching staff would lay on him. “Like that’s a no go, it’s almost like stealing or a felony. If you hit him, you’re going to be punished no matter what after practice. But in the game, like the tempo playing it in front of all those people. Not hitting him is pretty hard.
He was able to show off Friday night despite an early injury in the contest.
“My shoulder got messed up like the first play, I got a little sort of stinger, but I had to play through that,” he said. “That’s like ‘Man, I can’t stop’, I’ve been working so hard in spring, I had to play through that.”
Clayton has been working hard. He came to Florida expecting to play a lot as a true freshman as a five-star can’t miss defensive end. Weight was a big issue for him. He showed up weighing 215 pounds and is pushing the 250 pound mark now.
He’s been getting after it and knows there is a lot more to do.
“I really don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of my potential yet, I think I still have a long way to go,” he said. “A long coaching way to go, so I mean I’m confident in my coaches like Coach Rumph and Coach Shannon are getting me right in those techniques and lining me up to play full-go.”
That first year is always the toughest, but Clayton says he needed last year to get acquainted with the college game. We saw some of that Friday.
“The game’s like a whole lot slower, a whole lot slower,” he said of year two. “When I first got here, things were moving fast. Yeah I was an athlete and I was using my athleticism to you know keep in the speed of the play. But actually breaking down the play in the meeting room, showing what I did wrong, the proper technique of the play, where to be at the right time, I mean that happened a lot tonight. I was at the right place in the right time, running plays down. My teammates helped me, the tackles, running up field, making the quarterback spill out and I’m just right there. So huge credit to those guys there, I didn’t do it by myself. I hold tremendous credit to those guys and my coaches.”
Clayton says that improving his entire game is what his intentions are in the offseason leading up to his sophomore year.
“Personally what I need to work on is just everything,” he said. “You know, perfecting my craft, sharpening my blade, pass rush, playing the run, reading the formations, what type of play they’re going to run just by looking at where the back is or the tight end is… just working on that this entire offseason. I mean I had a pretty good spring doing that but I really think I still have awhile to go learning the plays and just playing the proper technique.”
The defensive end group may be the deepest and most talented on the Florida roster. He knows it is going to take a lot of work to get on the field. He also believes that this defensive line can be every bit as good as last year.
“This unit can be really, really, really good,” Clayton said. “I mean we have a lot of guys who have a lot of potential. CeCe Jefferson, Keivonnis Davis, Taven Bryan, Khairi Clark, Jachai Polite, Jordan Smith, me of course. We have a lot of guys that can make tremendous plays, we have a lot of guys that if somebody were to leave, he’s just going to step up. It’s just natural, and that’s pretty much what’s been the tradition here at Florida. Just guys leaving like Dante Fowler, you know guys stepping up like Alex McCalister. It’s pretty much like a tradition here, just great defensive linemen coming and going, coming and going, coming and going and we’re pretty much just trying to keep that tradition going. Not just from the defensive end spot, but the defense as a whole.”
Work for next season never stops. The end of spring was Friday, but Saturday meant it was time to start grinding again, both on and off the field. That also means making sure his teammates are in the same boat as he.
“Basically what I do now is just study my plays, in my room studying technique,” he said. “I just try to keep to myself, ultimately try to perfect my craft. At the same time when I’m on the field I try to motivate other guys. They call me the juice guy of the team, of the defense. I’m always yelling. As you see tonight I was out there jumping around dapping up my teammates, doing things like that trying to keep their head in control, keep everybody calm down, keep everybody engaged in the game. I really, that’s my role basically. I’m trying to fill that role to the best of my ability.”
“I’m not taking any time off.”
“Oh yeah, back in the gym, back watching film, back working on my technique. When Coach Rumph is free I’m going to go in there and get some extra work with him. I ask Coach Shannon about a lot of things. Coach Ryan Smith, he helps me a lot one-on-one when Coach Rumph can’t do it. I’ll call him up and say ‘let’s get some film’ and he says ‘come on up and do it.’”
And in preparation for next year there is one game he is looking forward to most.
I didn’t play in many games last year but this year I think I’m going to get a pretty good amount of reps, get a chance to play against those guys,” he said about the menacing schedule the Gators will face in 2017. “LSU, for fact.”
“Yeah. They were talking a lot of trash and then the fact that they didn’t want to come here, we had to go there and we still won? It just shows you talk is cheap, man. Just like Coach (Geoff Collins) used to say, ‘just put the ball down and we’ll play.’”