Considering the credence given to recruiting services in this day and age, it appeared to be only a matter of time until Florida defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton would blossom into an impact player.
And on Saturday, Clayton’s potential was on full display.
The 6-foot-3, 254-pound Clayton registered consecutive sacks in Saturday’s Orange & Blue Game at Florida Field, and he was often seen dominating on the defensive line. Seemingly a better fit in coordinator Todd Grantham’s revamped 3-4 defense, Clayton has the size and motor to become a consistent player in the SEC — something that didn’t seem possible last season.
After Rivals declared the junior from Vienna, Ga., a five-star prospect at the end of the 2016 high school football recruiting cycle, it was expected Clayton would be a candidate for early playing time at Florida.
But that couldn’t have been further from the case. He played in just five games as a freshman, registering three tackles, mostly during inconsequential action. Last season wasn’t much better, as Clayton played in nine games, recording seven tackles and a lone sack.
“My first two years didn’t go as planned. I got one sack last year, but I didn’t get any reps. The thing is, every time I got in last year I made plays,” Clayton said. “The little time I had to get in I made a play. So, I think this year, the more opportunities I get, the more production I will get for the team.”
While he’s hardly the first defensive lineman to come to Gainesville needing time to develop, many wondered if Clayton deserved to be labeled a bust considering his perceived potential.
Yet throughout spring camp, coach Dan Mullen and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri insisted Clayton has shown flashes of a player inching closer to becoming the complete package.
“The play-making is there, but it’s just me trying to get my technique down, fundamentals, all of that. The sacks will come. The sacks are easy,” Clayton said. “Either you’re going to do it right and (Sunseri’s) way, or you’re not going to do it at all. The way he coaches there’s no relax and there’s no plays off.
“As far as improvements, Coach Sal and Coach Grantham, they told me ‘Hey, you’re a great guy, you got a great get-all, but we just want you to be more consistent.’ But, as far as my personal growth, I think I’ve grown more over the past two, three years. As far as when I first came in, I was little on the weight, I couldn’t read the defense very well but now I’m getting more of the hang of it.”
UF teammates agree Clayton’s potential always being there, and it’s been a promising sight to see him perform in stretches rather than spurts.
“He’s always had it in him. That man has a motor, he’s going to give it all he has until he has no more,” Gators linebacker David Reese said. “He’s going to keep running to the ball.”
With preseason camp more than three months away, Clayton’s next step of preparation will be away from the field, where he’ll work to maximize his potential by building endurance.
“I’m already strong, but there’s no reason not to get stronger. As far as for me, it’s my stamina and conditioning,” Clayton said. “I’m just trying to build my stamina, that’s all.
“The main thing they like about me at this point is my motor – I can have a bad play, but I’m always going to go 100 percent. By me going 100 percent, I might miss my assignment, but I’ll make the play or I’ll get a sack or something. The play-making is there, but I’m just trying to focus more on getting my technique down, getting my fundamentals and all that. The sacks will come.”